To Be Cynical is to be Human

Hello, dear readers and happy Monday! I know, I know, Mondays aren’t happy. Mondays are for being tired, and grouchy, and remembering all the things you don’t like about your life. Mondays are for wanting to crawl back into bed.

But, let’s try something different. Let’s think of Mondays as a chance at a fresh start, every single week. Each Monday is our own personal reset button. Let’s take this opportunity to do it differently. Let’s make the changes we want to see in ourselves and the world, okay?

“Show me somebody who is always smiling, always cheerful, always optimistic, and I will show you somebody who hasn’t the faintest idea what the heck is really going on.”

― Mike Royko

We are living in the age of positivity. We are living by the rule of mind over matter and the fight fight fight for hope and optimism. We are walking around smiling, hoping, and telling ourselves and everyone we know that it’s all going to be all right, and it’s exhausting.

Yeah, it’s nice to always be positive. I am always trying to be positive too, but honestly, expecting to live a life where you wake up every day full of optimism is not going to end in anything but disappointment. You can’t do it every day.

It’s good to see the best in people, and it’s good not to be blind to the worst. It’s good to know you can make a difference and it’s ok to be exhausted and infuriated by how hard it is. It’s ok to see all the pain of the past and worry that we’ll go on repeating ourselves into the future. It’s ok to have a less than perfect view of our future, and it’s ok to feel overwhelmed and discouraged too.

And yeah, it’s nice to want to change the world for the better every day. I want to do that too but honestly, sometimes I want to step back and just worry about myself for a while too. Expecting to give yourself day in and day out to other people without ever wanting to give up or give in lead directly to exhaustion and disappointment too.

The fact is, no person can sustain one emotion or one way of feeling or expressing themselves forever. We do our best to keep to the middle when we can but often before we can recognize it, let alone stop it, we are swinging wildly from one end of the spectrum to the other. This is normal. This is okay. Being positive all the time sounds nice, but that does not mean it is the best way or the healthiest way to live. It might not be the right way for most people. And that is okay.

We all want to believe the best of the world, and every day so many of us are fighting to make the belief into a reality, but sometimes we have to take a break. Sometimes we just have to be real with ourselves. The world is shitty, people are shitty, and the whole damn system is set up so that you have to work so damn hard just to feel like you aren’t going to your grave feeling useless and forgotten. It’s a hard life. It’s unfair, and it hurts, and no amount of positivity changes that for everyone. I might not even change it for you.

Here at Zen and Pi, I advocate for feeling the full spectrum of human emotion in ways that are heathy for each individual. That means sometimes being angry, sad, and yes, even cynical. Sometimes, because we are human, no matter how hard we try we want to feel bad, and we want to express that too. Sometimes we are mean, or indifferent, or unforgiving. Sometimes we just can’t be the bigger person. It’s understandable! We are hopelessly flawed. It’s okay!

They say cynics can’t learn, can’t grow, can’t change or help anything or anyone, and maybe that is true, but the perpetually positive are just as blind and stunted if you ask me. Each one lives with only half the story, half the human experience. Each condemns the other, and both are fools.

To be human is to hope, and to be human is to be hopeless too. Both stem from having an accurate view of the world and the people inhabiting it.

So, this week, if you can’t always smile, say nice things, pay it forward, or let it all slide, it’s ok. Do your best and fuck the rest, you know?

I know I’ve had a pretty hard time keeping my chin up, putting one foot in front of the other, and smiling while the world seems to be burning all around me. There is so much going wrong in the world, and there doesn’t appear to be a whole lot we can do about it right now. Some days I’m pissed! I’m disappointed! I’m fucking tired! And I’m going to be, off and on, forever because that’s what people do.

So, I’m buckling in and turning on my frown y’all. I may have to sit through this, but I don’t have to like it. I don’t have to be chipper, and I do not have to start every morning with telling myself that it’s all down to my attitude because sometimes that is nothing but a dirty lie and here at Zen and Pi we do not lie to ourselves.

I’m not saying give up hope. I’m not saying give up the fight. I’m not saying happiness is impossible or that real change will never happen. I’m just saying it’s ok to let your cynical flag fly because the world is a shitty place sometimes and being a human is hard. It’s ok to be less than enthusiastic about society and human potential at the moment. We are all disappointed, still, and we will be for a long time. Let it out. Express it, share it, and don’t feel bad or apologize for it.

Give yourself permission to be a Negative Nancy if you need to until you don’t need to. Don’t let the world tell you how to feel about whatever you are going through. Don’t let the world tell you that suppressing or denying emotions they deem unnecessary, or “wrong” is in your best interest. Just feel, and be real, that’s all I’m asking.

Fight when you can, smile when you can, and step back and curse it all when you want to too.

It’s all human, and it’s all right.

***

Check out my weekly-ish newsletter for important weekly reads + existential musings on life, love, and inevitable human suffering (:

Featured image via Unsplash

If they make you smile, keep them.

Hello, hello! Happy Monday dear readers and welcome to the work week. I am at it early today despite my tiredness. It’s going to be a busy one so I have to find time to write in parts of the day that were reserved for other things before. I’m trying to think of it as an experiment, I might learn something from having to change-up my routine. I might even find I like things better this way. Positive thoughts and all that jazz you know?

These past few weeks I have been feeling irritable and not much in the mood for laughter and playing around. I tell myself I have too much to do and too many things to think about to be goofing off with friends. I don’t need the distractions! I watch everyone have their fun and I found myself becoming bitter, I was becoming a real grouch.

How could they just go one laughing when there was so much they could be doing, that I am trying to do, right now. I was bringing everyone down.

“If they make you smile, keep them.”

// happyjoshblog

Last summer my job hosted a little seminar on the benefits of laughter. The woman who hosted it had us play games and connect with each other and afterward pointed out to us that while we were having fun we weren’t worried about anything else. We didn’t care ow long we had been there, we didn’t care about following the rules, we didn’t care about who was our friend and who wasn’t, we didn’t care about the bills we had to pay or what we had to do tomorrow. For a short time, we were able to let it all go and just play.

I often forget to appreciate the people who make my life bearable when things around me feel like they are piling up and I am falling behind. Sometimes all the laughter and fun can feel more like a distraction rather than a necessary part of the day, and get irritated by them

This week I want to look at it differently. Having that time to let go of everything that is stressing me out is important because you know what they say:  All work and no play makes Lisa a very dull girl!

When we laugh we change physiologically. We stretch muscles throughout our face and body, our pulse and blood pressure go up, and we breathe faster, sending more oxygen to our tissues. Some specific benefits of laughter are:

Laughing lowers blood pressure.

People who lower their blood pressure, even those who start at normal levels, will reduce their risk of strokes and heart attacks.

Laughing reduces stress hormone levels.

You benefit from reducing the level of stress hormones your body produces because hormone-level reduction simultaneously cuts the anxiety and stress impacting your body. Additionally, the reduction of stress hormones in your body may result in higher immune system performance.

Laughing is a fun ab workout.

One of the benefits of laughter is that it can help you tone your abs. When you are laughing, the muscles in your stomach expand and contract, similar to when you intentionally exercise your abs.

Laughter improves cardiac health.

Laughter is a great cardio workout, especially for those who are incapable of doing other physical activity due to injury or illness. It gets your heart pumping and burns a similar amount of calories per hour as walking at a slow to moderate pace.

Laughter boosts T-cells.

T-cells are specialized immune system cells just waiting in your body for activation. When you laugh, you activate T cells that immediately begin to help you fight off sickness.

Laughter triggers the release of endorphins.

Endorphins are the body’s natural painkillers. By laughing, you can release endorphins, which can help ease chronic pain and make you feel good all over.

Laughter produces a general sense of well-being.

Laughter can increase your overall sense of well-being. Doctors have found that people who have a positive outlook on life tend to fight diseases better than people who tend to be more negative.

Everyone needs laughter and to take yourself too seriously should be considered a sin. We all do it from time to time. We get bitter, and mean, and we squash the fun of people around us. This week, try not to do that. Make people laugh, or at the very least allow them to laugh, and if someone is making you laugh, make them a part of your life.

Loosen up, lighten up, and have a little fun, okay?

***

Featured image via Unsplash.com

Benefits of laughter via Gaiam

30-Day Minimalism Challenge // Day 4: No Complaining

Throughout the month of January, I am doing a 30-day minimalism challenge in an attempt to start the year off fresh by practicing mindfulness, learning to enjoy solitude, and embracing simplicity. Feel free to join in if you want, I posted an image with all the challenges for you at the bottom of this post for reference.

Minimalism and Zen go hand in hand. Minimalism is about not making life too cluttered, nor too busy. Minimalism is about not being wasteful. It’s about figuring out what true happiness is, not what advertising tells you it is. Anything that is unnecessary is wasteful, and in a world where the trash is piling up and none of us is any better for it, maybe it’s time to try a new way.

I’m starting with doing 30 days, just to give it a try. What I like, I’ll keep, what I don’t, I’ll toss.

No-complaint day

Complaining is never productive and a catalyst for negative thought patterns. Challenge yourself to not complain about small stuff today. Either accept the situation and move on, or find a solution.

Yesterday’s task was to have a whole day of no complaints. I really did do my best but I won’t say that I did it 100%. I do think I did pretty good, especially considering it was the first day back to work after a break from my usual routine. Some of my major complaints were:

Having to get up early to go to work. This is my #1 complaint Monday thru Friday. I am not at all a morning person and I don’t think I ever really will be. Having to get up before I am ready is guaranteed to put me in a bad mood.

I have been working on this one for years and honestly it might just be something I deal with for as long as I continue to work a job that requires me to get up early. What I can do is learn not to let this complaint go ruin my mood and morning. I have resolved to keep this negativity to myself and to do my best to steer myself toward positive thoughts as the morning goes on.

Having to be at work at all. Everyone I know hates their job so I thought it was normal for me to hate mine too. I get to the circle of complaints and I find myself joining in and encouraging others to see the place in a wholly negative way and to drag our feet and be miserable as a sign of solidarity. I hate when I get like that because a lot of the problems are exaggerated or even made up in our heads. We just can’t think rationally about it when we are in a group like that.

I mean, no, my day job isn’t my dream job but compared to the rest of the world’s income levels it does pay well and doesn’t require too much of me. I’ve worked here for almost 10 years and I am secure in the knowledge that I will have this job for as long as I want it. I work with my friends (and my girlfriend)  and I have earned respect from my peers and my bosses. Sounds like I have it pretty good, don’t I?

I try to remember that I have very little to complain about when it comes to my employment situation. That is usually enough to shame me into gratitude and a better outlook.

Work that requires me to do anything physical. I woke up yesterday morning knowing that the day was going to be an easy one. Schools weren’t going so all I was doing was going in to look busy (organizing files, filling out paperwork, walking around with a clipboard, that sort of thing) and only for a half a day. Yeah, turns out I was wrong about that.

When I came in I saw that “the guys” had started a project, organizing one of the sheds out back. The sheds are full of very dirty, very heavy, and very old equipment. Some of this stuff has been in there since before I started working here. I had to help out or else I would look really bad and I was pissed about it. I complained a lot!

But you know what, after all, that moving around, I felt pretty good. We had worked on a project that had been on our to-do list for a very long time. We had done work that no one else had wanted to do, and we did it well.

And finally, I’m tired. At the end of every day, I come home feeling drained. I really think it’s more of a mental exhaustion than a physical one and I truly believe it has a lot to do with my negativity and the negativity of those around me wearing me down.

When I get home I try my best to do something I really want to do, something that makes me happy. I try to make time for my girlfriend too. Time to talk with her and get my feelings off of my chest or maybe make her laugh if I can. I make an effort to play with the dog, the exercise gets my blood moving again and perks me up.

Sometimes I realize I’m not as tired as I thought, other times I ending going to bed early. Either way, I end the night happier than I would if I just complained the whole time.

************

Complaining is not only a bad habit most of us have, it’s also one we encourage in others. I’m not talking about when we voice our fears or pains, I’m talking about when you are bringing yourself nd those around you down for no reason other than you’re grouchy.

Some complaints are important, valid, or address a really big issue and some complaints are just a bad habit reinforced by the connections we have built with others through shared negativity. There is a better way and life can be a little bit better when you remind yourself that things aren’t as bad as your mind makes them out to be.

Give a no-complaining day a try, decide to either fix what is upsetting you, or to accept it and move on. Maybe it will help, and maybe it won’t, but it will be a step toward figuring out what works for you.

*************

The idea for this challenge came from Into Mind. The rules for the challenge: Do one assignment every day, the order is your call. Don’t skip a day. That’s it.

30-Day Minimalism Challenge Calendar

A Very Specific List of 13 Things I Like Very Much

Earlier today I wrote another list, a negative list, a list of things I do not like. I was having a bad day and needed to vent some annoyances but I feel much better now. I’m home and relaxing and I think I ought to end the day on a more positive note. So, I made another list. This time it’s some very specific thing that I like very much. Enjoy!

  1. Date nights with my girlfriend at The Alamo Drafthouse. They have these awesome packages that include the movie ticket, a meal, and drinks to go with the movie you are seeing. Plus they have a strict no talking policy!
  2. Drinking a cold beer while taking a hot shower after a long day at work. I don’t know what it is but a hot shower makes a cold beer (or hard cider) so much better. Try it!
  3. Eating a big bowl of vanilla ice cream. I hate all the fancy flavors, just give me plain old, tried and true, vanilla please.
  4. Words that describe very specific things, for example:

    Qualtagh (n.): The first person one encounters, either after leaving one’s home or (sometimes) outside one’s home, especially on New Year’s Day.

  5. When my girlfriend tells me stories from her childhood. It’s nice to get a glimpse of who she was before she every met me, especially if the story is particularly funny or embarrassing.
  6. The feeling I get when I am with my family. It’s a weird mix of anxious and nervous but also relaxed and joyful. I wonder if there is a specific word for that sort of feeling?
  7. Watering all the house plants early on Saturday mornings. I like to get up before my girlfriend and do a few things around the house and write. The start of this process is watering the plants, which sets the mood and gives my brain time to think and my tea time to steep.
  8. Trying to imagine a new color. I know it an impossible thing to do but the exercise is one of those things that unlocks your brain and makes you think differently. Like asking if a tree falls in a forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?
  9. Taco Tuesdays at the Mexican restaurant around the corner. Unlimited tacos and 1/2 off maragritas, what more could I want?
  10. Eating just one almond joy a day. I have this weird thing where I like to ration my sweets. I think it makes me appreciate the treat better. I buy the king size, which has four almond joys in it, and I enjoy just one a day. Mmmmmm!
  11. Spelling difficult words right on the first try. Definitely, experience, conscious, and weird are some of the ones I struggle with the most but on occasion I get them right and I mentally pat myself on the back for being so awesome. I never spell guarantee right though.
  12. Having one to many Mimosas at brunch. About once I month I do brunch with my girlfriend and drink just slightly too much. Afterwards we have a blast shopping at a near-by outdoor mall :)
  13. Those times when the colors of the sunset are so strong everything around you gets tinted orange. Whenever this happens I feel like I am witnessing some rare and incredible phenomenon. In reality it happens pretty regularly but it’s still beautiful to me every time it happens.

What do you think? Are there things you agree with? Disagree with? Are there some awesome things that make you happy that you’d like to share? If so let me know in the comments :)

In response to Daily Post’s Blogging U. course, Writing 101 assignment: Write a list

Featured image: Sunset In Denver

Searching for Some Positivity

It’s Monday again and while I am happy to be at work and out of the house I find that my mood is a little down. Lately the problems of other people have gotten to me. My friends and family are going through hard times and the national news has been especially depressing. For a sensitive person like me this means an easy trip straight into depression.

Already today I can see how I am being affected. I don’t care about much because the tedious, day-to-day tasks my boss expects me to complete seem so small and pointless compared to what is going on around the world. The growing problems of race-relations in this country, the police brutality, the shootings, the wars, all of this seems so much bigger and more important.

Closer to home I have friends who’s parents are dealing with cancer and knee surgeries and even my own family is dealing with ongoing health and financial problems.

The hardest part is feeling like there is nothing you can do to help any of it. You want to go out and fix all of the worlds ills but where do you start? How can you, just one lonely person, expect to do anything about these problems that are so much bigger than you. Then again, even if you could find a way to help you can’t because you are stuck working a day job that doesn’t even pay you well enough to give you the option of throwing money at the problems.

So I guess there isn’t much to do except let those close to me, and all over the world know I am here. I see you and I am thinking of you. If there is anything I can do, let me know. I promise to do my best.

Beyond that I think I better try to take care of myself. So this week I am taking the advice of some of my readers and removing myself (temporarily) from all the bad news and looking for some positivity in the world.There has to be some good things happening out there too. Things the news doesn’t report. I have to believe the world isn’t all bad. It’s the only way to cope.

To start I want to share with you a website I have been following for a while that brings to light some of the good people are doing all over the world. It’s called GOOD. You can subscribe to their magazine which is a “beautiful and expansive publication that sets out to discover what it means to pursue a meaningful life — to live well and do good in the 21st century”. Or they have a neat YouTube channel that does episodes called “Fuck Yeah Humanity” which are little snippets of news about the good things people are doing.

I watch them whenever my faith in our species starts waning.

If you have any other sources of good news to share, please let me know in the comments.

I could really use it this week.

How Are You Hurting Other People?

I was scrolling Tumblr the other day and came across a text post that really made me think:

I really fucking hate the fact that there are rarely any posts on here that talk about how YOU can negatively affect people. Yes, it’s important to space yourself out from people who hurt you but you also have to recognize how you are hurting people. Take some responsibility for your actions.

melissaahhsss

Wow, now there is something that doesn’t cross my mind everyday, how do I hurt other people? My first thought was that, to my knowledge I haven’t hurt anyone badly in a long time, but I do wonder in what ways I am a negative influence in other’s lives. I make a lot of effort to distance myself from people who affect me negatively but now I wonder if there are people who might distance themselves from me because I have have be a negative influence in their lives.

I mean, I’m sure the people who I think need to get their act together don’t know what they are doing or why so it is quite possible that I could be doing the same to others and not know it. The only way to find out for sure would be to ask but I think I should start by assessing myself and what ways I do know I can be a negative influence in the lives of others.

I can be very condescending and dismissive. I have always been afraid that I make people feel bad by talking down to them as if they were stupid. I never mean to do this of course but there have been many instances in my life when a person has come to me and said that I have made them feel stupid or was dismissive of their opinions.

When I feel like I am right I state my case and then, for me, that is the end of it. It doesn’t happen often, and only in cases of debates over social issues and in the workplace when working with a team on a project. Once I see something as the “right way” anything anyone else says means nothing. In here is nothing the other person could say that would top a point I have already made. I am right and that is the end of it.

I know this is incredibly egotistical and I know I shouldn’t think like this but it is my nature and as much as I try to change I do fall into old habits sometimes. I need to hear other people out and be more of a listener and not continually dismissing the thoughts and feelings of others. For one, I hate when someone does it to me and we should always treat others the way we would want to be treated. And two, I am not so smart that there is nothing I could learn from others if only I would give them a chance.

I think I have a corner on suffering. I have been through a lot of hard times. Not a lot, but more than most. When I hear others complain about their lives and I feel I have picked myself up from worse my first thought is that they are whiney cry-babies. It pains me to write this about myself because deep in my heart of hearts I respect everyone’s struggle, but I am human and I think bad things sometimes too. Sometimes these feelings may show on my face and I tend to make other’s feel like their suffering is small.

There are times when I believe this is justified, such as in the case of what we call a “first-world” problems. Starbucks being out of hazelnut syrup or your charger cord snapping is a first-world problem and I do not feel sorry for you. But where when people complain that they are really having a hard time in their relationships, in their finances, or in their work life and I feel they have gone on long enough I will often tell them, in the nicest way I can, that it’s not that bad and either fix it or shut up. This is extremely invalidating and, once again, I would hate it if it someone did it to me.

And lastly, I am a chronic enabler. On the surface this doesn’t seem like it’s so bad but I really have trouble with telling people no and setting boundaries. While this may seem like it only creates a negative effect on my end, after awhile it does start to impact the other person when I begin to resent them.

The pattern is always the same,I tend to try my best to be nice and accommodating to another person. They begin asking me for more and more of my time or my money. I give them the benefit of the doubt even when others tell me to say no or to talk to the other person about what they are asking of me. Of course I don’t because I hate confrontation and don’t want the other person to feel bad. Then they push me too far but by that point I am so confused about why I am helping this person anymore that I don’t know how to explain how I feel, so I start being passive aggressive.

I make snide remarks, I get short with them, I joking tell them thing I think but not in a way that they could ever understand what I really want from them, which is to give me a break. Eventually I get so frustrated that they haven’t gotten any of my “hints” that I blow up and make them feel like crap. Then I feel terrible and say I am sorry and do something nice for them and they think every thing is ok so they go back to asking for more than I can give and the cycle begins all over again.

Instead, I need to learn to say no and express my feelings better. I need to stop worrying so much about pleasing people and making them feel comfortable all the time. I don’t mean being mean I mean being honest. I think in the long run my relationships with other people would benefit from the boundaries and other people would respect me more. And, if nothing else, people wouldn’t be negatively affected by me being passive-aggressive and they might gain some awareness of the negative effects they have on other people.

I think there are ways that we all are, unintentionally, negatively affecting the people around us and it is a good exercise to occasionally look at ourselves and try to make changes to our own thoughts and behaviors. No one wants to be mean or to hurt others but we do, the important things is to take responsibility and do our best not do it again. We all want other people to be a good influence in our lives, we have to do it for other people too, right?

How might you be hurting other people?

Writer’s Quote Wednesday – Alex Haley

It is the last week of Black History Month and I have chosen to dedicate this Writer’s Quote Wednesday to the much loved and highly controversial, Alex Haley. Born Alexander Murray Palmer Haley, he is best known for writing The Autobiography of Malcolm X and Roots: The Saga of an American Family.

The controversy surrounding him is centered on his book Roots which he maintained was an accurate history of his family traced all the way back through his ancestor Kunta Kinte. Kunta was stolen from Africa and brought to America as a slave and renamed Toby. He states that the family history was told to each successive generation and through research he was able to find the exact village his African ancestor was from.

Years after the book was written Haley was sued for plagiarism and settled outside of court. It is a known fact that much of his book was stolen from at least two other sources, Harold Courlander’s The African and Margaret Walker’s book, Jubilee. And worse, the rest, all the “facts” of his family history, was pretty much made up. I did not know this when I first read Roots as a teenager. I learned it many years later and I felt so, so betrayed. I refused to believe it at first but the more I read on the subject the more it became apparent that Haley had lied to us all.

Having said that you are probably wondering why I have chosen to write about him. It is because regardless of the controversy, when I read Roots, it changed me. I saw the history of slavery and this country in a new light. Growing up I knew that my family must have descended from slaves but we have no history, no country, no culture we can say we are from. And so I felt no connection to the nameless, faceless ancestors who lived and died so I could be here.

Roots gave the ancestors of black people in America a face, Roots made them real. I know these were not my ancestors but mine were something like that. Mine lived through that terrible time, they suffered, and it was more horrible than I was ever taught in school. So while the story may be made up, and it may even be pieced together from other’s work, I cannot discount the way it made me feel. I at least give it that credit.

The copy I have was stolen from my own father’s book shelf (or maybe my grandfather’s, I can’t quite remember) over 15 years ago. I have read it many times over and the cover is now torn and barely hanging on. For me, in addition to the story, this book has sentimental value as well.

“In my writing, as much as I could, I tried to find the good, and praise it.”

― Alex Haley

I chose this quote because, like Haley, in my writing and in everything I do I try to find the good. Some times it isn’t so easy though. As I get older I feel myself becoming more and more cynical but I am fighting it. I am beginning to feel very down about the state of the world and people in it and finding the will to be compassionate and caring isn’t as easy as it once was

There are so many people in this world who are angry and distrustful and have lost the ability to see goodness and beauty and I don’t want to become one of them. Life is hard and full of ugliness and too much of what I read, particularly on the internet, reflects that. Too much of it has become negativity talk and ranting. Not enough of it is about goodness, beauty, positivity, or compassion.

I do not mean we shouldn’t be writing about bad things but we can show the good too, even if it’s a good that doesn’t exist yet. There is a goodness in all truths when you are showing something to the world that needs to be seen. So try, in everything you write, to show some good because the world already has more than enough bad stuff in it. And the worse things get, the more we need to be shown some good.