BORN TO BUZZ: Create Your Own Reality

I believe we chose our own reality.

I’ve seen that process in action—two people interact, and both have their own very clear ideas about what actually took place.The same event happens to two different people–one views it as a blessing, the other as a blight.

But saying we choose our reality sounds so very lightweight. There’s no getting around cold hard facts, right? Reality is reality—if your car is going off a cliff, no amount of wishful thinking is going to keep you from eventually hitting the ground.

Well, I guess there is reality, and then there’s reality. So much of what holds us back in life, and in our art, is NOT about cold hard fact, nor is it as concrete as driving off a cliff.

Most of our obstacles are tied up with perceptions and misperceptions, based in fear, in indecision, or results from unclear goals and unfocused efforts.

And all of THESE conditions are, indeed, things we can choose how we think about them.

I wrote recently about actually experiencing a thought burp up in the middle of the night—and watching my mind literally pounce on it and begin to worry a solution out of it.

Til I realized, “This is not a problem I have to solve. It’s just a thought!”

And I’ve been reading more and more about “mindfulness”, the process of observing and naming your thoughts without the compulsion to act on them or even judge them. “Oh, look, there’s that insecure feeling again….” “Wow, I feel like smacking my cat. I must be having an angry thought about her ralphing on the couch.”

But why do I…we…have to go through these processes to achieve inner peace? Why is my brain always buzzing? What’s wrong with me and my brain, anyway?

I’ve been blaming it on menopause and looking for a cessation any day now. But more and more women are telling me, “Oh, it’s not that simple….”, sending me into new panic. You mean it’s not going to just go away on its own?? Horrors!!!

But yesterday I found hope.

I read the most remarkable book excerpt in the July 2007 issue of OPRAH magazine.It’s from Ruth King’s book, HEALING RAGE: Women Making Inner Peace Possible”. You can read more about Ms. King’s book here.

The excerpt reads:

“The mind’s job is to be busy with thought—24/7. The problem is that we often confuse the activities of the mind with the whole truth…A single wave of emotion can feel like the vast ocean at any given time, yet it is still only a wave, to be followed by another…Emotions are fed by thoughts that believe they are the only reality…We can be informed, even entertained by [them] without the urgency to believe them or act on them.”

I have read and reread that excerpt.

“The mind’s job is to be busy with thought—24/7.”

Our consciousness constantly creates thought because that is its function. There’s nothing wrong, that’s just what it’s supposed to do. That’s why it’s so hard to “empty your mind” when you meditate, so hard not to think of brass monkeys when told not to.

We have brain buzz because our brains are born to buzz.

And notice the next big sentence:

“Emotions are fed by thoughts that believe they are the only reality…”

If this is true, then here is the linchpin behind the whole “choose your own reality” philosophy.

If how we feel is based on thoughts, and any given thought can be given credibility if we let it, then we can CHOOSE which thoughts we give credence to, and which ones we won’t.

I don’t think it will be easy. I’m sure it takes practice, practice, practice.

But if such peace-of-mind is really so within my grasp, I’m willing to put a little time into making that happen.

I feel like this marshaling of my thoughts and processes is going to be so good for my art, and for my life.

GOODBYE LITTLE RAT

Yesterday was a hard day. I had to take my daughter’s pet rat to the vet to be put down.

I cried and cried as she fell asleep in my hands and then died peacefully. She was the sweetest animal that has ever been in my care.

I know, I know. I know EXACTLY what you’re thinking. “Rat” and “sweet” do not belong in the same sentence, unless it’s something like, “We killed the rat, SWEET!”

I’ve never been fond of rats, and a year living in downtown Baltimore almost 25 years ago sealed the deal. Even looking at them made me nervous. Movies like “Willard” and “The Bone Collector” merely confirmed my harsh opinion. And no one ever disagreed with me.

Oh, from time to time, I’d hear people say, “Oh, but pet rats are so SWEET!” My response was, “Yeah. Right!” A stint as a rat handler at our local human society changed my mind substantially, but I still got nipped a lot. I grew to see their charms, and I could see how desperately they sought affection. But never really thought I’d grow to see one as an uber-pet.

Until this particular little rat came into our home.

My daughter bought her as a baby at a local pet store, and snuck her into the house. She hid her inside a large box in her bedroom for months before I discovered her. (Waist-high piles of clothes and books and girl trash were very effective at keeping me out of the room.)

When I discovered the rat, Robin thought it was funny her parents were so “dumb” they hadn’t known she’d had a rat for months. I pointed out it wasn’t exactly cool to have a room so messy, you could hide rats in it.

As Robin’s friends and boyfriends dominated her life more, and she spent less time at home, I felt guilty about the rat. I did a little research and learned they are intensely social animals. So social, one source admonished, that having a single rat was tantamount to….well, rat abuse. I resolved to spend an hour every evening handling the rat while I watched TV with my family.

And I ended up falling in love with that silly little thing.

Robin called her Mavra (MAHV-rah) after some Welsh thing, and we never did learn what it meant or how it’s really spelled.

Mavra slept most of the day, and when the TV came on, she knew it was social time.

She’d scrabble out of her house, a little cardboard box we’d cut doors in. Inside that box was her her nest. I now understand where the term “rat’s nest” comes from. It’s a large, carefully constructed bird’s nest made with everything they can get their paws and teeth on. Every time we cleaned her cage, we gave her a new supply of newspaper strips, toilet paper, a rag or sock. She would carefully pull each piece inside her box and trim them down to bite-size pieces. Then each piece would be carefully stuffed into the next. This would keep her busy for hours. They were amazing to look at.

I’d pick her up and let her run around my lap and legs a little, before settling in for a cuddle. Sometimes I’d stick her in a pouch or an old cloth purse, and actually “wear” her into my studio. I’d do some work or read e-mail while she scrabbled around happily, eating tortilla chips, occasionally sticking her nose out for a peek.

She was very much like a dog in her behavior–happy, affable, curious. She never once bit me or anyone else while being handled, not even when she was given food. She even learned not to pee on us, once she realized we didn’t like it. We didn’t have to do much–we would just say, “Oh, Mavra!” sadly and put her back in the cage and go clean ourselves up. She figured out what was up with that, and rarely peed on us after that.

Mostly, she loved to lie happily in my lap and have her head stroked, just like a dog. Long strokes from her nose over her eyes and deeply rubbing her ears. She would chatter her teeth, rat behavior that means, “YES!! I LIKE that!” Often she would fall asleep.

Robin took Mavra with her last fall to her first internship. I’m so glad she did! The internship fell through, but not before Robin had spent months alone in a tiny studio apartment, in a tiny town hours away, so isolated her only social contacts were at the restaurant she worked lunches at. Mavra kept her company during the long, long hours of solitude.

I owed Mavra one for that.

I guess what broke my heart as she died is I know very few people would ever look further than her ratty head and her snake-ish tail, and see deeper to the loving and gentle heart inside. Even my husband never looked at her without shuddering, and most people’s initial reaction was “eeeuw!”

But rat lovers know.

Many folks are not who they seem on the outside. Some are pretty pretty, but shallow and cruel inside. Some are ugly or unassuming, but they are loving and kind.

Give me the rats of the world any day.

I found an old soft t-shirt of Robin’s to bury her in. I tucked her in the pocket, and tucked her tail in around her. Doug and I buried her in our backyard with our other beloved pets. I found a stone from a beach in Rhode Island that amazingly, looked like a rat–gray and long, with one pointed end and a rounded end, and flat on the bottom. I put it on her grave.

Goodbye, sweet Mavra. I hope you find a warm little nest and a pile of tortilla chips in heaven. And someone to soothe you to sleep each night.

I will not forget you soon.

IT’S JUST LIFE

My husband and I had a good talk yesterday. We’re both feeling a little fragile, a little down, a little overwhelmed right now.

We talked about the same stuff we always talk about when we feel this way. Whether what we’re doing is ever going to amount to anything. Whether it’s worth doing, worth all the effort and sacrifices we’ve made. Whether we’ve made the right choices. Or if there are harder choices yet to be made.

We don’t have unbridled youth and enthusiasm in front of us anymore. We’ve long passed even the most generous outer boundary of “middle age”.

It’s a time for thinking carefully about what we want the next 20 years to look like, and what we have to do to make that happen. Is this the right work for us? If it is, why is it so hard?

Is it time to hunker down and dig in? Or is it time to move on to the next thing? When do you know when it’s time to simply try something else?<

Do we stay in this small New England town, where we’ve built a great family life and made many friends? Or do we look for another region of the country for this next chapter in our lives? It’s got to have lots of sunshine but not too hot. It’s got to have community access to a great lap pool. It’s got to have access to horses I can ride. NO BLACK FLIES!

Do we sell our beautiful but increasingly high-maintenance 1850’s home? Or put more sweat equity into it, both for personal enjoyment and to keep costs down? I want to state for the record right here that I personally get very little enjoyment from engaging in sweat equity. One of my favorite movie lines of all times is from a trailer from a movie starring Dan Aykroyd and Rosie O’Donnell as special agents undercover, infiltrating some sort of sex club. A studly club employee, wearing a leather harness, says to Rosie in a sultry voice, “How can I fulfill your wildest fantasy?” And Rosie says, “Go paint my house.”

How do we take advantage of these last few years with our youngest child at home?< Is this the time to travel more? Or should we stick close to home?

Money is tighter than ever, not what we expected to happen at this age.< Should we cut back on spending as much as possible? Or throw fiscal caution to the wind and live a little?

There’s no way to answer these questions, of course. All we can do is keep our lines of communication open. And keep our options open. And be open to opportunity when it crosses our path.

Much as we yearn for a more clear road map right now, we know there’s no such thing. Oh, people can plan and prepare. But life has a way of throwing all kinds of twists and surprises at you, some good and some bad.

I know, too, that some of our choices have been excellent ones. As I drifted off to sleep last night, I realized one of my best choices ever was to be with someone who wants to be the person I can talk to about this stuff.

There are many other good choices that are just as clear to me. Even the bad choices have been….instructional.

In the end, it’s not about perfect choices.

It’s being able to learn and grow from everything that happens. To stay hopeful. To keep courage. To try new things, and make new choices. And to muddle on as best we can.

Because as life unfolds, it affects people one of two ways.

They can get thicker.

Or they can get deeper and richer.

I already know which kind of person I want to be.

THE POWER OF TINY CHANGES

I had surgery last week, and am only starting to feel back to normal now.

It was much, much more exhausting and debilitating than I’d thought or planned for, starting with the hospital stay.

My room was across from the nurses’ station, and I could hear EVERYTHING going on. I had a talkative roommate who never quit. She was very nice, but the last straw was the “Are you asleep?” queries at 2 a.m., 3 a.m. and 4 a.m. Between that, and the almost hourly nurse visits (alternating between me and my roommate) and I was a basket case by 6 a.m. When my husband showed up the next day to take me home, he asked brightly, “Did you catch up on your sleep?”, I dissolved into a puddle of tears.

I couldn’t wait to get home and sleep, sleep, sleep. After the two-hour drive home, that is.

Finally, I was home, sweet home. And I DID sleep, off and on, almost all of that first day.

By the second day, though, I had a most unwelcome visitor. Racking back pain, sciatica, brought on by inactivity and too much bed rest. The powerful meds I was on couldn’t touch it. It was so violent, I could only find relief by walking or standing—NOT what my exhausted body, already nauseated by the strong meds, could cope with so soon after surgery.

I was in major pain, and I was terrified. I imagined every single worst case scenario: blood clot, slipped disk, permanent pain.

I felt totally out of control of my situation.

Absolutely nothing gave me any comfort, or interested me, beyond the pain.

I thought it would last forever. That’s what it felt like.

After a few phone calls to my doctor and some adjustments to my medication and regime, I was able to get some relief by the next day.

But I was STILL exhausted. And worse, still depressed. The worst of the pain was gone. Hallelujah! (The blessing was, by contrast, my incisions felt great! But I still found absolutely no interest or comfort in anything. Not my family, not my home, not the beautiful June day. I felt exhausted and used up.

My studio and the orders waiting for me there felt like a burden more than anything.

I tried thinking of the simplest pleasures—coffee and chocolate (can’t have any for two months); alcohol (can’t have any for two months); sex (OW! I don’t even want to think about it!); yard sales (What?? Bring home more junk? No way!); movies (can’t sit that long). Even reading, usually my prime escape, seemed dull and sad.

The list grew longer. This scared me almost as much as the pain. I went to bed last night feeling pale and wan and futile.

But then something happened.

I woke up this morning.

My first thought was, “I could make the bed.” (I don’t know why, but I always feel better when the bed is made.) That thought felt pretty good.

My second thought was, “I could fold some towels.< That wouldn’t be too hard.”

I did. That felt pretty good, too. (I was sure to not think too hard about the other baskets of laundry sitting there looking hopeful.)

I felt better.

My third thought was, “I could clean the rat’s cage. That wouldn’t be too hard.” Mavra is the sweetest animal on the earth, but she is a bit smelly in her old age.

My fourth thought was, “Maybe I could just do one or two things in my studio today. Maybe just get one surface clear.” I knew I would feel better if I could accomplish that.

My fifth thought was, “I can’t believe how much better I feel just doing these tiny tasks!”

My last thought? “I should blog this!”

So here I am, before I’ve even made the bed or had breakfast. Before the thought fled my mind, which so many do with frightening frequency lately.

Why do making these small changes to my environment make me feel so much better??

I think this is another version of the micro-tasks I’ve written about before. The one where, if you are trying to exercise more but can’t find the time or inclination, you just put on your work-out clothes. Because just committing to that tiny action often leads to the bigger commitment, to actually work out.

There’s something good about realizing you can make tiny changes and achieve small—very small—results. Results that make a difference.

There’s something empowering about those tiny changes, in themselves, that can make you feel much, much better about yourself. BEFORE those changes can even really make that difference.

Oh, yes, and getting some sleep.

The next time you find yourself overwhelmed about life or your work, first take care of yourself.

Focus on getting through it, even if you can’t see the end. Know that it WILL get better, eventually.

And as soon as you can, make some teensy, little changes for the better. Even if you can’t see where they fit in the bigger picture.

Because just CHOOSING to make those changes is a good thing.

And making even TINY changes is a better thing.

They WILL add up. And you will quickly move on to even bigger and better changes.

But even more importantly, they will change YOU.