Broken Record Syndrome

record_player_03

It is a bit surreal that I am writing about records on a blog — and hopefully most of you know what a record is or if not can imagine what one might be — because the last time I played a record I had no vision for sharing stories on the Internet. Writing was a more contemplative, intimate process as it was assumed that much of what I wrote would not make it any further than the pages of one of my notebooks.

Now I feel a sense of responsibility to share what I write, at least those thoughts that are somewhat comprehensible and complete, if it might help someone else in some small way. To deprive the world of my writing, and the insights contained therein, when it can be so easily shared would be cruel and unfair. My audience of one has grown to a nebulous group of unknown proportions.

This has changed the tenor of my writing. It has forced me to step outside of myself and look more broadly at my feelings, circumstances, and experiences as I describe and seek to understand them. I have evolved, progressed, and transformed in response to a rapidly changing world. And I, as well as others, I hope, have benefitted.

But in many other areas of my life, I have not so easily and gracefully progressed. I have become stuck like a broken record, caught up in a fractured groove that plays over and over again. These grooves represent both thoughts and behaviors (or lack thereof). And the symphony of simultaneously repeating tracks is poorly orchestrated, resulting in an agitating undertone of dreary reputation with no end in sight. Despite my best efforts, I — like millions of others — suffer from broken record syndrome from time to time.

Broken record syndrome occurs when we have recurring thoughts or exhibit repeated behaviors without intention or purpose. Over time, these automatic repetitions become background noise; we become accustomed to their presence and accept them as normal. They become our ingrained biases and our habits. They greatly impact our lives; yet, we are largely unaware that they even exist. And when they do float in and out of our field of awareness, we forget that we have the power to transform them into something more useful and more importantly, more beautiful.

So the first step, then, is to be open to noticing the little snippets of thought and behavior which we experience so frequently, and with such subtlety, that they typically escape our attention. And once we have discovered them, and realized the nuisance and monotony of their perpetuation, we can begin to understand the purpose they have served in our lives. They have protected us, and made us feel safe, in an uncertain world. They have given us something upon which we can rely when everything else seems to slip through our fingers. But it is not enough use these incessant beasts as a crutch, and we deserve better.

We can, instead, offer ourselves freedom from reliance on things that are actually hurting us, by leaning instead on something stronger. Something more meaningful. Something transformative. Something of our choosing and our design. We can replace the cracks which cause us to trip over ourselves again and again with ideas and actions that more deeply resonate with our heart of hearts. We form new habits and develop new ways of seeing the world. And these continually evolve, in response to our changing world and our own self-growth. And through this process we discover more happiness, fulfillment, and peace.

40 for 40 #8: Blondie

Vintage Electric Guitar

The first time I almost met Debbie Harry I was 26 years old. I was staying in the Grace Jones room at the Chelsea Star Hotel and it was one year after Joey Ramone died. She was to be at a posthumous birthday party for him, and I was to be there with a certain friend.

After traipsing around the city all day, participating in both planned and spontaneous activities, I returned to my room to wait for my friend to call. She had been at a picnic all day and that was the plan.

I waited and waited and waited until I finally fell asleep. At about 3 a.m. the phone woke me up. A friend of my friend called to tell me that she fell asleep a few hours ago. Both parties were over, and I foolishly chose to wait and rely on someone else rather than do what I wanted to do.

Blondie has visited the Lehigh Valley many times over the years. And, even though they are one of my favorite bands, and I feel a connection to many of their songs unmatched by other artists, I have never gone to see them. Until this year.

The Friday before my 40th birthday, I saw Blondie perform at a local venue. And it was fantastic on many levels.

Rapture. At last.

Heartfulness

heart

The concept of mindfulness has become popularized in recent years as a result of the work of many teachers, writers, and practitioners. And I am very grateful! Being more aware of who we are and what we do, living in the moment, and being intentional about our thoughts and actions are all integral to leading a meaningful and purposeful life.

But it isn’t enough. Without a full and open heart to center and connect our mind to something greater than ourselves, whether it be communal or spiritual or both, the practice of mindfulness can become esoteric, and sometimes egocentric.

I don’t think many mindfulness practitioners would disagree with me. At least I hope not. Indeed, the way mindfulness is typically taught and practiced, at least in my experience, promotes the fluid integration of mind, body, and spirit.

But something about the term mindfulness seems deficient to me. It begs for a companion to demonstrate that the mind alone does not fully represent our human experience.

Heartfulness is a complementary concept that builds on the idea of mindfulness. It focuses not on the thinking and feeling of mindfulness, but on being and doing instead. It is a process through which we can create resilient hearts, leading to more peace and love in the world. Heartful means to be full of curiosity, acceptance, understanding, responsiveness, forgiveness, and hope. It is to be our most beautiful selves despite the challenges and turmoil we face. When we practice heartfulness, we don’t need to think about being intentional because we consistently connect with and express the pure love in our hearts. It is to be who we are meant to be, a continual expression of our deepest desires and dreams.

40 for 40 #7: Collecting Mud On My Boots

You might think that I have given up on my quest to do 40 fun things in celebration of my 40th birthday. I have not; indeed, I have been so busy doing things that I have not yet had time to sit down and write about them!

boots

Last year, I expanded my horseback riding horizons by riding in Virginia. It was not only an expansion of my horizons because I had never ridden outside of Pennsylvania, but because it was an adventure ride on steep mountain trails after which I was in so much pain that I had to use my arms pull myself up from a seated position for about a week afterwards.

This year, I decided to ride in two additional states, Tennessee and Kentucky, thus completing my tour of the core horse states. I rode a mule in Tennessee and a spotted draft horse in Kentucky, thus producing two bonus new experiences — riding a mule and a draft horse.

I travel with my paddock boots when I anticipate riding while away from home. I have not cleaned the boots on purpose, because I love the idea that they contain fragments of dirt from all of the places I have ridden. Looking at my boots, I am reminded of the lovely horses who so patiently allowed me to ride them, and of the beautiful moments created by our time together.

Emotoxins

toxin

Every day we ingest and absorb environmental toxins. They are unfortunately in the ground, in the air, and in the food we eat. They are also often in the clothes we wear, the cosmetics we apply, and the cleaning supplies we use. We have, as a society, created a world filled with unavoidable toxins.

These noxious chemicals contribute to a climate where toxicity is the norm. On any given day, we are exposed to many unnatural substances which can potentially cause us both immediate and long-term harm.

We sometimes also create inner worlds where toxicity is abundant. Our thoughts, feelings, beliefs, and values can become tainted when our natural harmony becomes distorted. Fear, anger, sadness, and the other ‘negative emotions’ are not necessarily toxic; they only become so when they no longer contribute to a transformative process in our lives. This is a fine line which, in the midst of healing, can be difficult to concretely define.

There is an interactivity between external, material toxins and those that are internal and intangible. Certainly, exposure to unnaturally formulated and superimposed chemicals can impact our cognitive and emotive function. But we also, consciously and subconsciously, influence how these emotoxins form and take hold in our brains.

We can create natural barriers to prevent exotoxins from becoming a part of our systems. The first necessary barrier is an emotoxin radar. We need to be able to sense and recognize emotoxins before they creep in too close. Because emotoxins have their appeal — they create a false sense of security which makes us feel safe in the short run — we might feel tempted to let them in and try them out. If they do approach our protected personal space, we need to let them bounce off of us, fall away, and dissipate before any damage is done. Perhaps the best barrier is to create an emotional environment where emotoxins will fail to thrive. These natural barriers are strengthened through awareness, understanding, contemplation, and by actively choosing harmony over imbalance.

But sometimes these barriers fail to protect us from emotoxin invasion. When emotoxins throw off our internal balance, we can flush them out just as we drink water to remove chemical toxins from our bodies. Emotoxins can be flushed through cleansing and purification rituals, meditation, prayer, sharing and making sense of our feelings through constructive talking or writing, and exposing ourselves to sensual joys (I keep frankincense and bergamot oil nearby and use both to balance my mood accordingly).

Just as we aim to reduce our exposure to toxins in the environment, we can also minimize emotoxin pollution. And when emotoxins find their way into our minds and our hearts, we can open up to let them go, letting in more love, light, and inner peace.

The Epiphany

Once you experience an epiphany, there is no going back. So it was when I realized that my emotional difference was an integral, and beautiful, part of me rather than something to be feared, suppressed, and eliminated.

peak

But the other side of the epiphany, the point when everything you ever believed to be true is found to be a lie, is lonely. Those who have not reached that peak, who are lost in the struggle of self-discovery, cannot see what lies on the other side. It is not because they are blind, or see the world with disillusioned eyes, but because they have not yet organized the frames of reference necessary to make sense of this strange new world. It is a blur, a frenzied state of meaningless fluff that is of absolutely no practical use.

So for those of us who have an epiphany, in whatever field we practice, we have an obligation to make what we have envisioned, and found to be true, more clear and more real to others on a similar life journey. Sometimes we do this by prodding them on with tough love, other times we seduce them with incremental measures of success, and yet other times we bridge the new world with the old, weaving together intellectual, cultural, and mythological wisdom into an inclusive tapestry that captures our collective imaginations and life aspirations.

The epiphany, the discovery that opens up unlimited new potential discoveries, is a unique, personal experience. It is one that compels us to share that experience with others so that they, too, might benefit. Doing so in a meaningful way is a burden borne with love by those who experience these life-changing moments. We write, we talk, we use our lives as an example, we hope that someone will understand. Not to confirm that this new world exists, because the epiphany is not tainted by uncertainty, but to give it wings.

Blasting Zones

blast

I had never been in a blasting zone before, nor had I even heard of them. But on a recent road trip through six states, I traveled through five blasting zones that were strikingly marked with orange warning signs.

The blasting zones are created to clear grass, trees, hills, and other earthly formations to make room for highway expansions. It is the process of permanently removing lush, lovely goodness to promote, in theory, movement, speed, and economic progress.

Similarly, we often blast away parts of ourselves to move forward in our lives. We suppress our feelings, we settle for less than we deserve, we overlook our values, and we try to transform our personalities. These little blasts, while not permanent like those by the roadside, cause long-lasting damage. While it might seem like we are removing roadblocks, we are actually creating superficial limits on who we are and our potential for fulfillment in all of its forms.

Intentionally letting go of feelings, activities, habits, rituals, thoughts, and things that no longer serve us or reflect our true nature can be a healthy practice. In order to grow, we need to make room. But when we remove, diminish, or hide our inner and outer beauty, we are instead creating a gap that will continue to suck out all of the love in our lives. Rather than discovering fulfillment, we will find ourselves empty and unsettled. Changed, but not for the better.

It is not always easy or simple to discern what should or should not remain a part of our lives. Whether or not we choose to remove the right things, the gentle process of letting go is far more forgiving and loving than that of blasting away with anger, frustration, or desperation. When we let go of things, they may float back to us — and we can then decide whether or not to welcome them back into our lives or to continue releasing our grip. When we blast away, the process of reintegration, should we choose this route, is far more difficult.

All Animals Have a Name

lion

I often have ideas about things that I would like to do, but I don’t always act on those ideas. That is a good thing, as many of my ideas are not necessarily constructive or useful or even interesting.

But one of these ideas, which I had in high school but more than 20 years later have still not gotten around to doing, was to print labels with names on them and stick them on packages throughout the meat department of a grocery store. This action would raise awareness that all animals have a name, are capable of giving and receiving love, and deserve better than to end up anonymous and grotesquely displayed under plastic wrap in an open, public refrigerator.

When it was first reported that Cecil the lion had been murdered, I did not join with those who found this act extraordinarily offensive because Cecil had a name and was specifically known and protected by a group of people. All animals have a name, a name in the heart of their mother which is too often not communicated as animal babies, when exploited as part of an economic scheme, are taken from their mothers too young. I found this act extraordinarily offensive because we are meant to love and protect our animal friends, not to kill them and parade their carcasses for pleasure.

So while I was deeply saddened by Cecil’s death, I did not feel more sympathy for him than I did for the animals I saw in a safari display at a textbook nouveau riche home not too long ago, or for those animals that I see every week at the grocery store. Cecil deserves our attention, because he was a beautiful and sensitive animal who was unjustly taken from us. But his legacy is much greater than his own life; such is the way for all who sacrifice themselves willingly nor not. His unfortunate death is a reminder that all creatures on this planet are precious and deserving of our love, attention, and protection.

All animals, like people, have a name. Whether or not we take the time to learn that name, or anything else about each person and each animal, is up to us.