DIS—EASE

There is a natural connection between the way we live and the diseases that come our way.  Science is just beginning to discover the linkages between specific negative emotions and specific physical disorders, but already many of these connections can be made. 

Negative emotions damage the body. When we perceive a situation to be dangerous, adrenaline and cortisol are released by our bodies to facilitate “flight or fight” responses.  The problem is that most of the “dangers” that cause stress cannot be resolved by fighting or running away! I have tried both and neither ever worked. 

Modern life is characterized by a tsunami of stressful events and daily pressures coming at people from every conceivable direction. And yet the real culprit isn’t the situations which surround us – it is the emotional reactions to these events.

Emotions are not confined just to the mind or heart, but they are often translated into chemical reactions which occur at both the organ level and the cellular level! Apparently, the “most damaging” emotions are feelings of un-forgiveness, anger, worry, fear, resentment, and frustration.  Clearly, no one with an emotional life is immune to the danger, particularly FEAR (FALSE EVENTS APPEARING REAL!)

These negative emotions which place so much stress on our bodies come in two forms: those that arise out of present situations and those that are embedded in our deepest memories. These unhealed memories are actually concealed as false beliefs and negative images in our mind, formed as destructive remembrances.  Our immune system is the primary healing source in our bodies. Stress is the one thing things that diminishes the immune system.  Healing these memories is the only way to allow the immune system to do its job.

Reducing the emotional symptoms of stress starts with reducing the sources of stress in your life. There are a variety of stress-reducing techniques.You have to find the ones that work for you in providing relief, but they don’t eliminate the reasons for your stress.

  1. Physical activities such as running, jogging, and aerobics are a great way to relieve stress and tension.
  2. Relaxing physical activities such as yoga or tai chi can help to work your body while relaxing your mind. 
  3. Mindfulness techniques such as contemplative meditation and prayer can strengthen your emotional responses to stress.
  4. Reducing stress in a particular area of your life can help to lessen your exposure to chronic stressors.
  5. I use some mobile apps, such as Calm, that engage my mind through guided conversation which helps me manage stress and anxiety.

Over time, you may find that your resolve against stress becomes stronger and that your symptoms improve.  However, if you find that you’re still struggling to handle the emotional aspects of everyday or chronic stress, it may be best to reach out to a mental health professional. You cannot allow these techniques to mask the underlying problem.

Learning how to recognize sources of stress in your life is the first step in managing them.  Everyone has different stress triggers, but work stress tops the list for most people.

Causes of work stress include:

  1. Being unhappy in your job
  2. Having a heavy workload or too much responsibility
  3. Working long hours
  4. Having poor management, unclear expectations of your work, or no say in the decision-making process
  5. Working under dangerous conditions
  6. Being insecure about your chance for advancement or risk of termination
  7. Having to give speeches in front of colleagues
  8. Facing discrimination or harassment at work, especially if your company isn’t supportive.

Everyday life and personal relationships also have a big impact.

  1. The death of a loved one
  2. Divorce
  3. Loss of a job
  4. Increase in financial obligations
  5. Getting married
  6. Moving to a new home
  7. Chronic illness or injury
  8. Emotional problems
  9. Taking care of an elderly or sick family member
  10. Traumatic event, such as a natural disaster, theft, rape, or violence against you or a loved one.

Sometimes the stress comes from inside, rather than outside. You can create stress just by worrying about things. All of these factors can lead to stress:

  1. Fear and uncertainty. When you regularly hear about the threat of terrorist attacks, global warming, and toxic chemicals on the news, it can cause you to feel stressed, especially because you feel like you have no control over those events.  Also, major fears develop over money issues and paying the bills, particularly when an unexpected bill arises and the budget is thrown off. Shit happens.
  • Attitudes and perceptions. How you view the world or a situation can determine whether it causes stress. For example, if your television set is stolen and you take the attitude that’s why we have insurance you’ll be far less stressed than if you think the robbers are coming back to hurt you. Similarly, people who feel like they’re doing a good job at work will be less stressed than those who worry that they are incompetent.
  • Unrealistic expectations. No one is perfect. If you expect to do everything right all the time, you’re destined to feel stressed when things don’t go as expected.
  • Change. Any major life change can be stressful — even a happy event like a wedding or a job promotion. More unpleasant events, such as a divorce, major financial setback, or death in the family can be significant sources of stress.

Your stress level will differ based on your personality and how you respond to situations. Some people let everything roll off their back. To them, work stresses and life stresses are just minor bumps in the road. Others literally worry themselves sick.

FORGIVENESS

FORGIVENESS

Forgiving someone or an entity of some sort is a conscious, deliberate decision to release feelings of resentment or vengeance toward a person or group who has harmed you. It makes no difference whether they actually deserve your forgiveness. The action of forgiving brings peace of mind and frees you from corrosive anger. True forgiveness does not require positive feelings toward the offender, but at least involves letting go of deeply held negative feelings. In that way, it empowers you to recognize the pain you suffered without letting that pain define you, enabling you to heal and move on with your life.

When you forgive, don’t gloss over or deny the seriousness of an offense against you. Forgiveness does not mean forgetting, nor does it mean condoning or excusing offenses. Though forgiveness can help repair a damaged relationship, it doesn’t obligate you to reconcile with the person who harmed you or release them from legal accountability. Letting go of grudges and bitterness can make way for improved health and peace of mind.

Forgiveness can lead to:

  1. healthier relationships.
  2. Improved mental health
  3. Less anxiety, stress and hostility
  4. Lower blood pressure
  5. Fewer symptoms of depression
  6. A stronger immune system
  7. Improved heart health

We can appreciate the benefits, but letting go is not so easy, or everyone would do it. There are a few folks that are just naturally forgiving. Being hurt by someone, particularly a relationship partner or someone you love, can cause anger, sadness and confusion. If you dwell on hurtful situations, feelings filled with resentment, vengeance and hostility can take root. Resentment is a killer and is particularly difficult to deal with. If you allow negative feelings to crowd out positive feelings, you will find yourself swallowed up by your own bitterness.

If you’re unforgiving, you might:

  1. Bring anger and bitterness into every relationship and new experience
  2. Become so wrapped up in the wrong that you can’t enjoy the present
  3. Become depressed or anxious
  4. Feel that your life lacks meaning or purpose, or that you’re at odds with your spiritual beliefs
  5. Lose valuable and enriching connectedness with others

Forgiveness is a commitment to a personalized process of change. To move from suffering to forgiveness, you can:

  1. Decide that forgiveness may improve your own life.
  2. When you feel resentment enter your thinking, look carefully at the circumstances and see if you had a role in the situation.
  3. Identify what needs healing and who needs to be forgiven and for what. If you had a role in the situation, even a slight bit, make sure to enter your apology as a part of your forgiveness.
  4. Acknowledge your emotions about the harm done to you and how they affect your behavior, and work to release them.
  5. Choose to forgive the person who’s offended you.
  6. Move away from your role as victim and release the control and power the offending person and situation have had in your life.
  7. In many cases, the person that harmed you may not realize what they have done and they have been renting space in your head for free.

As you let go of grudges, you’ll no longer define your life by how you’ve been hurt. You might even find compassion and understanding.

Forgiveness can be challenging, especially if the person who’s hurt you doesn’t admit wrong. If you find yourself stuck:

Practice empathy. Try seeing the situation from the other person’s point of view. Ask yourself why he or she would behave in such a way.

  1. Perhaps you would have reacted similarly if you faced the same situation.
  2. Reflect on times you’ve hurt others and on those who’ve forgiven you.
  3. Pray or use guided meditation — or talk with a person you’ve found to be wise and compassionate, such as a spiritual leader, a mental health provider, or an impartial loved one or friend.
  4. Be aware that forgiveness is a process and the other person doesn’t really have to accept your action.  The healing is for YOU. Accept their feeling and let it go.

It is important to remember that you cannot change another person.  People have to changes themselves.  Forcing another person to change his or her actions, behavior or words isn’t the point of forgiveness. Think of forgiveness more about how it can change your life — to bring you peace, happiness, and emotional and spiritual healing. Forgiveness can take away the power the other person through the elimination of your resentment.

What happens when I have a role in creating a resentment or I have offended someone? The first step is to honestly assess and acknowledge the wrongs you’ve done and how they have affected others. With this knowledge of harms done, admit it to those you’ve harmed. Tell them you were wrong and speak of your sincere sorrow or regret and ask for forgiveness — without making excuses.

You can’t force someone to forgive you. Others need to move to forgiveness in their own time. Whatever happens, commit to treating others with compassion, empathy and respect.

Men seem to have more trouble with forgiveness. The difficulty really lies in cultural attitudes about forgiveness and masculinity, and men have to do some extra work. A forgiveness program for guys might include contemplating examples of powerful, forgiving men, or reflecting on how forgiveness is actually a form of strength and courage.  Admitting you were wrong is a difficult thing for a man, even though most of us have had ample practice at being wrong.

“I am so very, very sorry sweetheart! I was wrong.”

“Yes, you were! Why do you do stuff like that?”

“I honestly don’t know, but I am going to work on it!”

The guy is clueless—he doesn’t know what he did, why he did it, or what to do about it. Not the best situation but better than silence.

In the meantime, both men and women who are suffering from an unforgiven wrong they committed may benefit from forgiving themselves. If you had known that your action would cause pain to others or yourself, you probably wouldn’t have done it. And even if you knew that you were causing damage at the time, you had no idea how much you would regret it in the future. Seeing ourselves as imperfect is difficult at best. So, we try to avoid mistakes at all costs, and when we do make a misstep, our first impulse is to ignore it.

In order to forgive ourselves, we first have to admit to ourselves that we were wrong. We have to acknowledge the wrong—which feels almost counter to our sense of well-being. Mistakes, failures, and even incredibly stupid acts are part of being human. It’s how we learn and grow.  It is hard to be human and not do something stupid every so often.

Forgiving others is the better way!

HAIR

WHAT IS SO IMPORTANT ABOUT HAIR?

A LOVE AFFAIR!

Men and women love their hair and both genders spend money and time making sure it is a proper a reflection of their identity. This deep personal relationship between hair and self-esteem is evident throughout history, philosophy and even religion. Hair is often a direct representation of our public persona.

History shows that hair is a symbol of femininity. There is little wonder why women feel like their hair is a “crowning glory,” since this phrase dates to Biblical times. According to 1 Corinthians 11: 15, “but for a woman, if her hair is abundant, it is a glory to her; for her hair is given to her for a covering.” As shown in 1 Corinthians 11: 5, “and every woman, who prays or prophesies with her head uncovered, dishonors her head; for she is on a level with her whose head is shaven.”

Lady Godiva’s naked ride through the streets has made her a heroine to the common people of Coventry. Her image of riding a horse with her body covered with only her long hair has become a symbol of civic freedom and beauty. The negative implication of a woman with bad hair is apparent in throughout history.

Men also believe they are judged by how much hair they have on their heads. The fear of baldness is palpable given all the various treatments available to grow and sustain thick hair. Most men consider their hair a reflection of their personal style, and as something that helps them look both masculine and professional. The chatter surrounding male grooming has become a hot topic recently, with an increased awareness and availability of specialty beauty products for men. 

THE COST OF HAIR

Hair and beauty are a multibillion-dollar industry, and the average woman spends approximately $50,000 on her hair over her lifetime and almost two hours a week washing and styling it. This is not just because many believe that appearances are important, but also because hair represents personality, thoughts and beliefs. For centuries, women have been able to play different roles by creating different hairstyles, and from their stories, we can see that hair contributes greatly to women’s self-esteem, actions, and motives.

The women of Brandon Oaks (my retirement community) have beautiful hair that is often styled to perfection.  Some have regular appointments with a hairdresser/stylist outside our community, but others use our in-house stylists and are thrilled with the results. Apparently, we have wonderful stylists who are quite good with hair and I know from first-hand experience they are very, very funny— hilarious actually.

I enjoy watching our women have their hair rolled into curls and sit under a hair

dryer.  Most read a magazine while sitting very still and allowing the contraption to do its job.   They look so serene and peaceful and they know the positive comments will flow as their peers recognize the new hairdo.

The average male spends about $25 a month on hair care and other “beauty” products. However, the under 30 crowd spends a lot more.  Moisturizers and hair gels are used a lot as are body washes and specialty shampoos.  You have to look as good in a selfie as you do in real life.  Watch out for specialized make-up for men.

BALD

Something women don’t have to worry about is baldness. The primary cause of male pattern baldness is having a family history of baldness. In other words, genetics. Male pattern baldness is associated with male sex hormones called androgens. The androgens have many functions, including regulating hair growth. Each hair on your head has a growth cycle. With male pattern baldness, this growth cycle begins to weaken and the hair follicle shrinks, producing shorter and finer strands of hair. Eventually, the growth cycle for each hair ends and no new hair grows in its place.

Male pattern baldness can begin in the teenage years, but it more commonly occurs in adult men, with the likelihood increasing with age. Genetics plays a big role particularly when the bald relatives are on the maternal side of the family.

Medical treatment isn’t necessary if other health conditions aren’t a cause.

However, treatments and techniques are available for men who are unhappy with the way they look and would like the appearance of a fuller head of hair. I am not bald and so I have no skin in this game.  BUT, I hate the comb-over solution and have never seen an attractive toupee, wig or weave on a man. For me, I would use Rogaine to see if it helps. If not, I would shave my head for the completely bald look. This has become a very attractive alternative for men.

When push comes to shove, there’s no known way to prevent male pattern baldness. A theory is that stress may cause hair loss by increasing the production levels of sex hormones in the body.  We blame everything else on stress, so why not baldness.  Anyway, a shaved head is much more “manly” than a bun on top.

REINFORCEMENT

Hair is so much more than a look. It can be a reflection and reinforcement of who you are.  Many women choose an abbreviated hairstyle when they reach middle age. This change in length is cultural, seeming to signify a graceful slip into life’s third act. After a certain age, women often want to hide, rather than glide, through the world, and the shorter style is part of that.

There are three types of aging women according to hair professionals. The ones who cut their hair off out of fatigue—the ‘get this stuff off my head’ types. Then there are the ones who do it because of a facial sag so they want to go short to enhance their best features. And then there are those women who fight it all the way, who stay long forever. And there is a wisdom among these women that stay with it and it can be incredibly glamorous.

A friend of mine gets her hair done every Wednesday by the same hairdresser no matter what unless there is a meeting of the Athenian ladies.  Her hair is always beautiful. When I go to the barber shop, I always take the first available person.  I am more interested in the time allotment and my thinking is that they must be oaky if they have a job. That would be heresy for most and stupid by conventional standards. Most women seem to prefer the same hairdresser even among those in our own salon. Men are becoming more selective and are slowly abandoning “barber” shops that provide only the “high and tight” look. One of my friends has his hair cut every two weeks on the dot by the same person

Hairdressing is a customer service-oriented business. The way you feel about the person performing the service is almost as important as the quality of their work. You sit in a stylist’s chair and tell her what you want, and she makes you feel like she genuinely wants to help you look your very best. Many folks quickly develop pseudo-friendships with their hairdresser. While they may never see the stylist outside the salon, they feel like the person is a genuine friend and therefore give them far more leeway in situations where they are dissatisfied than they would another service professional.

Choosing a stylist requires of a lot of searching, or the stylist may be a referral from a close friend or family member, all of which adds a great deal of pressure to the situation: pressure for the relationship to work. And when the stylist is an actual friend who has gotten his or her cosmetology training, then the impetus to keep the relationship stable gets even more strident.
 
Then you add the fact that esthetic appeal is subjective. What one person likes, another may not. In some cases (especially those where there is a connection apart from hairdresser/client) the taste of the stylist and client may mesh more readily. In other cases, the hairdresser may feel that a strong sharp-edged style flatters the face and makes a statement, but the client may favor softer looks and a subtler appearance.  Older women tend to have strong feelings about their hair and don’t like change. At least, that has been my observation!  I certainly expect to hear about this observation.

COLOR OR NOT

Then there is the problem of color.  My own hair has turned to gray as I have aged. There are lots of women with gray hair—gray is cool. But a number of men and women want the gray gone. The main ingredient in our hair is a protein called keratin, the same substance of our fingernails. Keratin is colorless and is arranged in overlapping scales in a hair strand, which makes it flexible. The cortex is the middle part of the hair strand, which contains moisture and melanin (pigment that gives your hair its color!) The cuticle is the protective outer layer of the hair strand, which determines how healthy your hair looks! If the cuticle is smooth, your hair looks silky and shiny. If the cuticle is raised, your hair looks dry and damaged.

Eumelanin is the dark pigment which gives black and brown hair color, and phaeomelanin is a lighter pigment that gives hair red, orange, and golden blonde colors. The mix of these two varieties of melanin gives your hair its unique shade.  Lack of pigment results in white or grey hair.

When permanent hair dye is applied to the hair, ammonia causes the cuticle to ‘open up’ and let the dye in. Then, peroxide is used to penetrate the hair cortex and remove your existing hair color (melanin). Once that happens, the new color is left in your hair cortex. Conditioner is used to close the cuticle to seal in the new color.

This is also the process used when bleaching or lightening your hair, except the melanin is extracted until you get the lightened shade that you decide (and your natural hair color cannot be replaced until it grows back in!).

Hair coloring is quite the process! If you do decide to color your hair, of course, you should discuss permanent coloring versus semi-permanent coloring. Permanent hair dyes are the most harmful, and if used too often, can result in damaged and dry hair. Although conditioners do help seal the cuticle after the coloring process is finished, the hair strand will not revert to the original condition without your help. Make sure to keep it moisturized, avoid using hot tools as much as possible, and use hair products designed specifically for colored hair.

Unless you’re an expert behind the science of hair coloring, I would have my hair colored by a professional! There are many factors that affect how hair coloring works, such as your current hair shade, hair type, and condition. Since these factors can greatly affect the outcome of your hair color, it’s best to trust a professional to achieve your look.

STILL LEARNING

I learned something new today at the community lunch table.  There are shampoos that will whiten your hair if you choose to have gray or white hair.  In fact, as I cruised the internet, I found over 30 brand names and most are available at Sally Beauty Supply, Walmart, or Amazon. I decided to investigate a modestly priced product called Klorane Shampoo with Centuary.  It uses a cornflower extract which is a natural blue pigment. Apparently, this pigment enhances your silver highlights and neutralizes yellow tones.  Also, there are whitening shampoos for dogs. Does Helen Mirren color her hair?

MY OWN HAIR!

I decided to try an outside hairdresser.  One our stylists has been cutting my hair over the past few years and has done an excellent job.  But a friend convinced me that she had the best and most entertaining hairdresser in all of Roanoke. So, I made an appointment with Yvonne and went for a cut.

First, let me be clear, I received a great haircut.  She asked if I liked it long and I answered in the affirmative.  She explained exactly how she would proceed by shortening it a bit in the back then layering it up my head. She trimmed a bit on the side—maybe an inch and took a smidge off the top. Terrific.

After the three minutes of hair talk our conversation began.  She told me about her former husband, her very interesting children and the places she had lived. I told her some things about my family.

She played golf earlier in her life.  She used pink golf balls.  On one hole she hit a good shot but started talking to a member of her foursome and did not follow the ball.  She knew she hit straight, but the ball was nowhere to be found.  Her friend told her to look in the cup.  Guess what? There was the ball.  She had a hole-in-one with a beautiful pink ball.

Yvonne is a painter.  It seems a resident of Brandon Oaks, a wonderful artist in her own right, was having her hair done. Yvonne said she would like to paint and was told to take lessons and she did. She doesn’t display her work in her shop because people give their views as to how she should have done the painting. She doesn’t like that at all.

She was a horsewoman when her daughter became interested in riding.  She loves horses, but no longer rides.

Of course, in between all this activity, she became a hairstylist, colorist and mother. She has been in business for 31 years.

I mentioned that I knew an Yvonne in high school.

“Oh, yes. You must have gone to Jefferson High School.  I have heard a lot about her.  She was a cheerleader and very pretty according to some.  When I had my shop at Promenade on 419, a man called and asked if an Yvonne worked there and was told yes. He said he would drop by in a few days to make an appointment. He didn’t want to do it over the phone.  A few days later, a man arrived at the shop with a huge bouquet of flowers.  He asked for Yvonne.  I was in the storeroom and someone came for me.  As I walked out of the room, the man got a funny look on his face and asked me if I was Yvonne. I said yes.  My eyes went to the bouquet and then to his eyes which were wide like he was scared.  He asked if I had gone to Jefferson High and when I said I had not, he sighed with great relief. He then turned and walked out with the bouquet.”  She smiled and giggled a little.

I found Yvonne to be an excellent hairdresser and someone who had a personality that was delightful.  She is first rate!

Many women feel that a bad hair day equals a bad day: when a woman’s hair is too fine, too frizzy, too dry, turning grey or falling out, her self-esteem is seriously affected. I am finding this applies to men as well.

AN AGING HIPSTER

AGING HIPSTER

In the year 2016, I wrote a book called OLD AND QUIRKY.  It was about the place that I live. I renamed this wonderful place SILC (Senior Independent Living Community.) In the real world, the name is Brandon Oaks Independent Living and Life Care Community. It is a wonderful place and I love living here. But mostly, I love the people.  They are pleasant, interesting and intelligent and they are all past the 65-year mark as earthly beings. I am aware that I’m growing older, but I can’t tell if I’m becoming quirkier or everyone around me is doing so.  This matter of quirkiness deserves another look.

I have decided that I gave my daughter’s entirely too much credit for my decision to move to this fabulous place.  Even though I was young (70) by some standards, I was no longer a hipster and truly didn’t want to be. Some people suggest that age is just a state of mind. At least it can seem so until you try to squeeze into ridiculously tight jeans you rocked when you were 50. But unfortunately, aging is just as unavoidable for hipsters as it is for everyone else. And the bitter reality suggests that when you reach the age of 70, it’s easy to be regarded as a cultural imbecile. There’s no fountain of youth to gulp down. And strategically placing copies of the New Yorker and Wire on your coffee table isn’t going to erase the signs of aging from your increasingly wrinkled face or your silver hair.

The fact of the matter is that there are limits to how hip you can be when you reach a certain age. There are, of course, tips and tricks to make the transformation more graceful, but the challenges for the aging hipster are many – especially when most aspects of relevant popular culture are primarily aimed at people in their teens and twenties. The stresses of staying up to date with everything can easily become oppressive, and growing frustration can lead even the most dedicated hipster into the dreaded mainstream middle. I simply cannot text with my thumbs. Plus, it’s more important to put together a nutritious, well balanced dinner than to text your grandchildren to see what they are doing.  Or, in our case, find your way to the dining room.

An exact timeline for the decline of the hipster is hard to define. Some already start to lose their grip around 40, while others hold themselves in top form long after the 50-year mark. However, here are ten clear indicators that the ball is probably rolling:

1. Your biggest musical influences have all hobbled around on embarrassing reunion tours.

2. You wear long-sleeved shirts because you are afraid of pre-cancer lesions.

3. You can’t relate to any of the characters on Stranger Things.

4. All your friends have grandchildren.

5. You have a great snapback hat collection. 

6. You have a gym membership and use it with admirable regularity.

7. You wear ear plugs at symphony concerts and object to loud restaurants. 

8. You go to bed before the news at least six nights a week.

9. You turned in your sleek BMW and now drive a Prius. 

10. You use Facebook to keep in touch with your family.

You could view “the aging hipster” as something of a paradox. But that need not be the case. You could just project your actual age instead of pretending that you’re still part of the younger generation. In other words, stop dressing like you’re 30 immediately. Be sure to keep yourself in decent shape. Few people manage to look good long-term on a steady diet of bacon and Ben & Jerry’s. Aging hipsters should also avoid overly daring and eye-catching outfits. The line between clairvoyance and bad taste tends to blur the older you get. Muted colors and more tasteful paraphernalia are always a plus. Even your choice of hair style plays a big role. Mohawks, ponytails and the messy layers get the ax. Short and well-groomed are key concepts. My hair is way too long by mature standards. Most people tell me I look younger when my hair is short. The truth is I am lazy and don’t like going to the barber shop.

But more important is your de facto relationship to popular culture and art. In this respect, never let yourself get lazy. Older hipsters gladly prioritize family and career over scanning for exciting current cultural expressions and phenomena. Instead of making the effort, they satisfy themselves with the lowest common denominator. Don’t. Do. It.

Since I no-longer wanted to be the hipster, it was evident to me that Brandon Oaks was the place to be.  The decision between buying a house and moving here was simplified when I considered grass cutting and snow shoveling.  End of story!

PRAYER

Now I lay me down to sleep.
I pray the Lord my soul to keep.
If I should die before I wake,
I pray to God my soul to take.
If I should live for other days,
I pray the Lord to guide my ways.

Father, unto thee I pray,
Thou hast guarded me all day;
Safe I am while in thy sight,
Safely let me sleep tonight.
Bless my friends, the whole world bless;
Help me to learn helpfulness;
Keep me ever in thy sight;
So to all I say good night.               

There is a fair amount of consternation about why we should pray. Most of us know about the foxhole payer where we ask God to get us out of a particular mess and we will agree to do heavy penance.  Our intentions are good, albeit short-lived. And many of us have presented a shopping list to God hoping that it will be fulfilled. Then we shake our heads and tell ourselves that prayer doesn’t work. Prayer is not merely making supplications before God for our needs. Prayer is the connection between humans and God, communicating with each other.

Thankfully, there is no one way of praying and those who have the need for prayer find their own way. Prayer is definitely a conversation with God. Since my thinking is often my source of chaos, I always ask God to direct my thinking. It works for me, but I have to be attentive. I also engage in Centering Prayer, whereby I attempt to empty my mind of distraction and hopefully gain direction from the Divine. Action is a necessary part of prayer; helping those in need, getting on with our daily work, and putting every moment into the presence of God. Singing, playing an instrument, saying a prayer aloud in groups, public worship, or simply silence are all part of connecting with the Divine.

Prayer is a way of relating to God, to ourselves, to those around us. In opening our hearts and minds and souls to God we are challenged to grow, change, and to love. Just as we make time to spend with those we love, so in making time to pray we are seeking to grow in our relationship with the Divine.

Prayer is being in the moment, being present, being open to new ways. It is a way of learning to become our TRUE SELVEs and to be comfortable in the presence of God. Since GOD is a presence that infuses every moment and every space, prayer focuses our attention in order to encounter the Divine.

I want to know the way of the Divine so that I can change; be open to transformation, to becoming more loving, peaceful, gracious, compassionate. It’s not an easy path and being open in prayer can often be a painful experience as we find and confront those parts of ourselves which we might not be keen on seeing. 

You can pray anytime and anywhere. The freedom to pray anywhere, though, often leads to praying nowhere. We should absolutely pray spontaneously whenever and wherever prayers arise in our hearts — during a break at work, before a test, in line with our groceries. But our lives are fueled by prayer, so we shouldn’t leave it up to spontaneity.  Pick a time and a place to be silent and pray on a consistent basis.

For some people, setting aside time to be alone with God is intimidating. In fact, for many today, any time alone at all — no friends, no television, no phones — is unnerving. After all, we are speaking to almighty God here. He already knows everything we need and everything we are going to say. One important thing to learn early on about prayer is that it truly is a conversation. God is truly listening when we pray.

If we’re honest, many of us lack courage and imagination in our prayer lives. We have a tiny little box of routine things we’re willing to ask God for, and we take on everything else — our questions, our frustrations, our dreams — on our own. We assume God’s not interested in or doesn’t have time for the small details of our day. And we can’t even imagine him conquering a global crisis, so we settle for middle-of-the-road mediocre requests. We wait to pray about something until it becomes “serious enough” for God to care about. Accordingly, we deprive ourselves of his mercy and power in massive areas of our life and world.

Prayer is powerful.

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t. michael smith

solitary

SOLITUDE

As the world spins faster with emails, tweets and Instagram, most humans need several ways to cope with the resulting pressures. We need to maintain some semblance of balance and some sense that we have it together.  Otherwise we feel overloaded, overreact to minor annoyances, and feel like we can never get everything done. As far as I’m concerned, one of the best ways to relax is to seek and enjoy solitude.

From the start, I will make a big distinction between solitude and loneliness. Loneliness is a negative state, marked by a sense of isolation. I feel that something is missing. I have been with with people and still felt lonely—for me the most bitter form of loneliness. Loneliness is harsh and is a punishment of sorts. It is clearly a deficiency state marked by a sense of estrangement and an awareness of excess aloneness.

Solitude is being alone without being lonely. It is a positive and constructive state of engagement with oneself. It was an epiphany for me when I found that I was very good and sufficient company. Solitude is a time for reflection, a way to touch your inner yearning. Deep reading requires solitude as does experiencing the wonder of nature. Thinking and creativity evolve from periods of solitude as an awareness that everything has been created in oneness.  The blade of grass, the tree that stands, the bird that flies, and the living, breathing human being all share a oneness with the divine.

Solitude permits peacefulness and a state of inner richness. It is a means of enjoying the quiet and drawing sustenance from it. This is something to be cultivated like a spring garden. Solitude leads me to contemplative prayer where I commune with the divine. It is refreshing; an opportunity to renew myself.

Solitude is something you choose. Loneliness is imposed on you by others

The SOLITARY SANDPIPER

Almost all sandpipers migrate in flocks and nest on the ground, but the Solitary Sandpiper breaks both rules. In migration, as its name implies, it is usually encountered alone, along the bank of some shady creek. If approached, it bobs nervously, then flies away with sharp whistled cries, leave me alone! In summer in the northern spruce bogs, rather than nesting on the wet ground, the Solitary Sandpiper lays its eggs in old songbird nests placed high in trees.

This lovely bird forages in shallow water, moving about actively, picking items from the surface. It also loves to probe mud looking for something delectable. While walking in water, this creature may pause and quiver one foot, presumably to stir up small critters from the bottom. The Solitary Sandpiper feeds on many insects in the water and along the shore, including beetles, dragonfly nymphs, grasshoppers, crustaceans, spiders, worms, mollusks, and occasionally small frogs. They are happy birds.

A long-distance migrant, these birds winter mostly in South America, especially around swamps and riverbanks in the Amazon Basin. They apparently migrate mostly alone and at night. In the spring they reverse the pattern and prepare for mating season, a popular event among Solitary Sandpipers.

The SOLITARY HUMAN

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To be a happy and healthy person, most of us know that we need to sleep well, eat right, and exercise. But how important “human connectedness” is to our overall mental, emotional, and physical well-being is another matter. For a lot of folks there is a tendency to obsess over the past and worry about the future (instead of simply being present), and too much time alone may have mental and physical health consequences. Human connection anchorsour awareness firmly in the present (instead of worrying and obsessing when alone). But we seem to be following the path of the Solitary Sandpiper.

While the very best cure for loneliness is a strong “in-person” social network (i.e. not Facebook) and a loving family, this isn’t possible for everybody. Unless we go back to tribal living like our ancient ancestors, a more realistic solution is ideal. For me, meditation has allowed me to lose my sense of self and creates a feeling of oneness with my surroundings.  By making me feel connected to everyone and everything, meditation cancels the detrimental mental, emotional, and physical effects of my solitude. While friends come and go, meditation is there for me.

The strangest thing is that more and more people in our society and in all countries around the world are choosing to adopt a strange, never-before-witnessed lifestyle, on a very large scale … that of the lone creature. Who is this masked man?

  • In the 1950’s, 22% of American adults were single, and 4 million lived alone. In 2017, there were an estimated 35.25 million single-person households in the U.S. The number of single-person households has increased gradually since 1960. There were more than 82 million family households in 2017. In 2017, 45.2% of adults in the USA were single. Senior citizens accounted for 18% of all single folks,
  • In Stockholm (2017,) 60% of all households had just 1 occupant.
  • In the US (2017), solo dwellers constituted 31% of all households.
  • Most solo dwellers in the US are primarily women (about 19 million), compared to the 16 million solo men.  Most are middle-aged (35 – 64 years).
  • In the 1950’s 500,000 young adults (18-34 years) lived alone.  In 2017 5,000,000 lived alone. Some 55% of 18-24-year-olds live in their parents’ home and 16% of those 25-34 live with their parents.
  • The 4 countries with the highest rate of people living alone are Sweden, Norway, Finland and Denmark.  40-45% of all households in these countries have just 1 person.
  • In 1996 an estimated 153 million people lived alone throughout the world.  In 2017, of the world’s two billion households, approximately 15 percent – or 300 million – are one-person households. What an astonishing social and cultural shift!  Whereas once solitary confinement was given to criminals as a punishment, now more and more people are actually finding it desirable. A question we need to ask now is why?  What on earth for?

Call it self-centeredness, or cloud-watching, but these days we have become interested in ourselves more than others. Our lives revolve around “my career”, “my happiness”, “my image”, “my Facebook status”, “my success”.  Our lives revolve around ourselves.  We no longer care about selfless living to serve God, country or people.

Is this a necessarily bad phenomenon?  Admittedly, it does does have the potential to create many problems both within and without ourselves if we don’t take time to sincerely invest some in a spiritual life and the happiness of others. But there is a positive side to this social shift from group to individual– it gives us space to breathe, to look into ourselves, to do that which makes us happy and whole. We can discover more about ourselves – our strengths, weaknesses, desires, motivations, behavioral patterns – with little to no distractions.  Essentially, living alone gives us more time to focus on ourselves, assisting us in developing our abilities that can ultimately better our lives, and the lives of others.  My exploration of things spiritual began when I began living alone, which would not have occurred otherwise.

Living alone gives you the ultimate freedom to wind down and relax, helping you to recover from your busy and intense work days or volunteer activities as the case may be. Living alone gives us the time and freedom to explore and work on our passions.  Most of the greatest writers, artists and musicians connected with their creative selves in solitude as it provides the best environment to think, to dream and to create. On the other hand, living in a house occupied with multiple people makes it very difficult to completely relax in peace and silence.

You can do what you want, when you want, where you want when you go solo.  You don’t have the drain and pressure of having constant, tedious duties to fulfill, and you never have to walk on eggshells around other people.  This can be both a good and bad thing: while living with others can actually teach you beneficial life-skills, giving you first-hand experience in “how to get along” with other people and how to compromise peacefully, it can also repress and hinder you from living a harmonious and enjoyable life.

We live in a highly connected society that demands us to be present and engaged in the exterior world of gossip and news almost 24/7. There is a relationship between the demand for constant connection, whether online or on the job, or in your world, and the enormous increase in the amount of time we spend on our own. Living alone gives me the gift of time, time that allows me to focus on what means the most to me, rather than superficially dividing and throwing around my attention here and there.

Solo dwelling creates a harmonious balance in my life that allows me to enjoy and value the presence of other people more.  It’s human nature to take our friends, family and loved ones for granted.  Living alone, devoid of the presence of others, helps me to appreciate these people more when they arearound.

When living alone, we have no one to cook for us, clean for us, wash our smelly undies or grubby socks.  It’s completely up to us to take care of ourselves – because if we don’t, no one else is going to.  When we realize that we canbe self-sufficient, and we cantake care of ourselves, we develop a lot more respect for ourselves.  This in turn enhances our sense of self-worth and self-esteem.  I cleaned my first toilet at age 62 and felt good about it.

Single life continues to be beset by notions that singles are less secure and more self-centered than married people. The belief is they tend to die sooner, alone and sad. Yet observations of people who live alone typically find that most are doing just fine; they don’t feel isolated, nor are they sad and lonely. Reports of the early death of single people have also been greatly exaggerated , as have ideas that marriage transforms miserable, sickly single people into happy and healthy spouses.

In some significant ways, it’s the single people who are doing particularly well.

Imperfection

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There is comfort when we deal in absolutes and certainties. We seekers often think we must be certain about things. But our reality suggests that we are not certain at all and this becomes the beginning of the loss of faith!  It has happened to me.   To assist us the Church feels its job is to make absolute truth claims and feels very fragile when it cannot. So, faith and our religious organizations are crumbling beneath this impossible and false goal, it seems to me. What if the church is imperfect—there is nothing wrong with “not knowing” as Richard Rohr says—there is beauty and faith in imperfection.

I understand the need for clarity, some basic order, and identity but absolutes don’t work in God’s creation as I see it. The Church then needs to abandon this need to be perfect—but from the inside by using internal resources (leaders and parishioners) to self-correct. A beginner’s mind filled with humble, patient, wordless unknowing, combined with sincere curiosity, is how I have learned to restart my life. Only then was I truly teachable. Otherwise, we only hear whatever confirms our present understanding.  I have had to become teachable in my own life to begin my quest to be the much better version of myself. A human being that I can love.  From the bottom of a deep hole, I had to stop digging, become a beginner in life, and learn how to live at the age of 62.  The Church is not too old to adopt a beginner’s mind. In fact, many spiritual thinkers are giving new meaning to the Christ and I am hopeful that unlocking the door will allow this message to enter.

Without much humility, religion has cried “wolf” too many times in history and later been proven wrong.  These mistakes could have been avoided if the requirement for perfection had been abandoned. Twisting one line of Scripture to prove a point was an unjust usage of the word. The biblical text was not allowed to change us as much as many Christians would have preferred but was used to exclude and judge other people. A new way of thinking is required. I want to be part of the whole.

I choose to believe what Richard Rohr says: “God’s presence was poured into a single human being, so that humanity and divinity could be seen, then and now, to be operating as one in him—and therefore in us! But instead of saying that God came into the world through Jesus, maybe it would be better to say that Jesus came out of an already Christ-soaked world. The second Incarnation flowed out of the first, out of God’s loving union with physical creation.”  He loves me and He loves you and He loves all of creation.”

When I realized that God loved me and I was like everyone else in the Spirit, I was united with everyone and everything, even a blade of grass and it was okay not to know, I began to see myself and the world differently. I was loved and I could love even with all the imperfections that abound. I see that it truly is as St. Francis said about loving: “It is better to love than to be loved.”

I want to be loved but loving someone else and that blade of grass is much better. And all love is unconditional. At one point in my life I detested the phrase “I don’t know.”  But not knowing is preferable and my burgeoning faith keeps me in love with God and Christine and the blade of grass.