On Darkness

I’ve been thinking a lot about darkness. Pretty literally. I’m not sure why, maybe it’s because I will eventually be working 3rd shift at my new job. Maybe it’s because I recently went camping and didn’t have access to a lot of artificial light. Or maybe because it cultivates a sense of quiet peace.

I’ve always enjoyed dim spaces. Evening fireplaces. Candles in the bath. Fireflies at dusk. Darkness is necessary, necessary and lovely because it invites you to fill it. Finally, you can see your own soft circle of glowing light apart from the commonly garish world, because it’s dark.

I love walking neighborhoods in the evenings in winter. I think I got the idea from the movie Home Alone. When Kevin is walking alone on the street, a family captures his attention as they go inside their home. The interplay between the darkness allowing him to see a glimpse into the family’s home through lit-up windows falls straight into you. Kevin then understands why he feels restless and is wandering. He realizes his longing for his own family and gives up his indignation at being left behind. I’m convinced that those pivotal connections for Kevin wouldn’t happen if it wasn’t dark outside. Maybe because the darkness can hold all of our honesty. We feel safer in the dark to admit to being ourselves- just as we are. We figure in the dark, it’s not as easy for people to see us, and therefore can’t easily judge us. Maybe this is why most counter-cultures exist in the dark.

They even recreate a similiar scene in Home Alone 2 (yes, I’m a complete sap). He’s walking the street again at night and again is able to see another little boy in the hospital window. They wave to each other through the darkness, and a spark is given to Kevin for vigilante justice on behalf of this boy and what he represents.

We are all given sparks. But such tiny flecks of light are much more noticeable at night. Some of my clearest thoughts and genuine motivations are when I’m in bed in the absolute dark. Paradoxically, I have to be blinded by darkness in order to better see who I am. The unknown that darkness presents to our sense of vision forces us to revert inward. It is the inside space, our inner selves, we can control when we can’t see into the darkness (although, we can’t really control much outside of ourselves even when it isn’t dark, but it’s easier to pretend we can during the day…) While in the movies Kevin almost made that trip inside-out accidently, I think we can actively practice and appreciate that same journey.

I then remembered that my favorite poet, Robert Frost, also had an appreciation for journeying through darkness. His poem called Good Hours does a good job of capturing why that scene in Home Alone was so beautiful to me:

“I had for my winter evening walk-

No one at all with whom to talk,

But I had the cottages in a row

Up to their shining eyes in snow.

And I thought I had the folk within:

I had the sound of a violin;

I had a glimpse through curtain laces

Of youthful forms and youthful faces.

I had such company outward bound.

I went till there were no cottages found.

I turned and repented, but coming back

I saw no window but that was black.

Over the snow my creaking feet

Disturbed the slumbering village street

Like profanation, by your leave,

At ten o’clock of a winter eve.”

 

To me, and maybe to Frost, darkness is not lonely. It is lovely, even hallowed. He willingly starts his walk when it’s already dark in the poem, and on his return journey when the windows go black, a reverence for the night makes even his footsteps upsetting. It’s because there’s something there in the nothing of darkness. In the inbetween time, before sunrise and after sunset a quiet, divine secret seeps into you. It is like you are witnessing the universe in the wild.

And you are. There’s not only waaaaay more dark matter/general darkness in our universe (like 50 times more!), but also that:  “Earth’s solar system resides in the darkest part of the Milky Way Galaxy’s life-habitable zone. Even more interesting, the Milky Way resides in the darkest life-habitable region of its galaxy cluster, which lies in the darkest life-habitable region of its supercluster of galaxies.”

We really are shrouded and bathed in cosmic darkness. This is important, because it allows us to actually see and understand how we fit into the bigger picture. The link above describes that without being where we are located in the galaxy:

1). in a place that can support life and

2). where it is dark and not super close to other bright objects

-we couldn’t view a lot of the night sky. It would be like trying to study distant stars at two in the afternoon. Light doesn’t always allow you to see.

This is why I think we need more gratitude for darkness. My dad used to say that his mom would always see the traffic at nighttime and say “Look how rich we are with all the rubies and diamonds.” (The rubies were the brake lights and the diamonds the headlights.) I too see all those rubies and diamonds, but I also see richness in the hues of gray, dark blue, indigo, and black that makes the rubies and diamonds shine. I see darkness as peacefully and quietly sewing unity into, around, and between the fabric of our lives, our world, and our universe. We may be made of stars, but darkness lets us sparkle and for that I’m infinitely grateful.

I’ll leave you with first lines of the song “Somewhere in My Memory” from Home Alone:

“Candles in the window
Shadows painting the ceiling
Gazing at the fire glow…”

Keep sparkling.

My hat’s off to you,

Sharon

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The Absurd Monthly Post

I and my hat have had simultaneously lots and yet not lots going on. (More on such things in future posts). But, I think the once a week posting is a bit too ambitious at this point as I’m kind of boring? I don’t have interesting things happen to me EVERY week. Lame, I know. (Although I did end up hiking between two thunderstorms yesterday.) In addition, in order for my ideas and explorations to be really flushed out I need more time. I think a monthly post is more likely what you’re going to see from now on.

I guess I didn’t know how much energy it would take out of me to write, as my process is really intense (I tend to nest with half-drunken glasses of water/tea/etc strewn about, constantly run my fingers through my bangs ending up looking either electrocuted or paying homage to Albert Einstein, with my hat nearby listening to my sighing and angry mashing of keys. And if someone tries to interrupt, even to nicely ask me what I want for dinner…God help them). So, I am using this to practice writing in hope that maybe one day I’ll behave like a decent human being when I am doing so.  And, while I enjoy the challenge of quick analysis and the pressure of tight deadlines, that is not the kind of writing I want to engage in at the moment. I want to shape my writing a bit more than just getting it typed up (although starting is an essential element in any writing process).

On top of all that, I am also having a hard time finding topics I feel comfortable sharing, as this isn’t a strictly personal blog…otherwise it might be a bit easier, albeit highly repetitive. (Seriously, how many existential crises can one person have in their lifetime?) But this also really isn’t a topical blog about a specific thing either. It’s about a journey- I think. I guess freelancing my blog’s motive wasn’t my best idea, but it got the ball rolling. I know my hat will eventually help me find ways to be authentic but relevant right? I mean, it IS my catalyst. My passive-aggressive catalyst sitting calmly in the corner constantly reminding me that I’m not writing…we have daily glaring contests.

Anyway, I just wanted to let you know I’ll be back at some point, and hopefully with some points.

You heard me.

Until that undetermined time in August arrives, you can read this Wikipedia page about the philosophical lens I’ve recently discovered and immediately realized I most identify with. In light of such a discovery, maybe my above sentence should read: “absurdist crises” instead of “existential.” It probably really should. Do you know the philosophical lens you are drawn to or look at life with? If you do, I’d love to hear what your relationship to your world is like as mine is a bit, well, absurd.

Until next time my hat is off to you,

Sharon

To Our Outraged Parrots Who Won’t Sit Still

I’m back! Last week, I took a break from writing as I just didn’t have time. There’s balance in everything. I needed to be still.

Anyway, this week I was struck by how exhausted I am by outrage culture. Everyone latches on to the hot new injustice like it’s a new fashion line. While, yes, there is a lot to feel outraged about these days: there also isn’t any easy resolutions and definitely no respite from having copious amounts of  undercooked “awareness.” I doubt anyone I know can personally and deeply follow through on their dozens of posts about the myriad of  completely different hot button issues out there. They just talk about them, eloquently write things about them on social media and blogs, maybe sign an online petition or two, give a couple of dollars here and there, confront strangers online, and move on. It’s outrage overload, and I can’t keep up with all these social justice Joneses, making me feel like I don’t care if I’m not participating in the cycle.

I also personally don’t think this is how to see to lasting or permanent change. Lately, we are surface level people gone wild. Skimming news, that already has bare bones reporting. Skirting real responsibility for any of our principled outbursts. Because, on principle, a lot is going in directions that are completely unsettling.

But are we so insecure we feel like we need to comment (without being asked) which side we’re on concerning every issue?…

Issues that we have never tangibly engaged in and have no plans to do so in the present or future?…

We are like sailboats on top of the water, our direction changing with each strong wind. And maybe if we just got out of the boat and held our breath to dive under, we might find what we were looking for all along.

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The hat and me, being outraged by outrage.

But I too am guilty of sailing along outrageous waves in outrageous wind. Yet, recently, I have starting deleting my knee-jerk online responses. I’ve essentially begun checking my ego. Just because I feel outrage doesn’t mean I’m directly involved with solutions. Also, just because I volunteered at that soup kitchen once or helped this group or went to that one rally- doesn’t mean I’m an integral part of a movement. It doesn’t mean I’m now an expert on homelessness, racism, economic disparity, gay activism, or can educate others about “what it’s like” and can use those experiences in an argument. Online. With strangers. Usually, people (like me) just get up on our digital soap boxes to repeat their clichéd verses and quote the same trite responses. Parroting solutions that are dreams. In some ways, that is really sweet. Sweet that we want things to be peaceful and happy and are excited to learn about others’ experiences and hardships. In other ways, it’s disgusting. It’s disgusting we can put it aside so easily after we felt like we got something from it. After we feel like we’ve contributed verbal wind. Still placing ourselves at the center of our self-made altruistic universe.

So I’m fed up being a parrot, especially in the online sphere. I have realized acquaintances – which is most of anyone’s social media following- won’t care that I am for this/ against that. My opinion doesn’t matter because they don’t really know me. Why would they care what I think?

So, in my opinion (which many people reading this won’t care about) change happens over dinner, in intimate spaces, among friends you bother with regularly. I will think twice about my positions when someone I’ve grown to trust and respect has questioned my stance. And usually, because they want to still be my friend afterwards, they won’t be a jerk in the process (hint hint).

I’m not saying you can only surround yourself with people who agree with you on every issue. However, if they drain you by not wanting to have conversations, but arguments laden with ego, or you perceive them as being actively hateful, exclusive, unempathetic…

have patience.

This is the actual work. This is the actual way to help foster change about those one or two really specific issues you care about from the deepest place in your heart- which usually won’t be the subject of those controversial headlines. (And I’m not sure of my actual “heart cause” yet but I think it has something to do about finding time to appreciate the elderly as members of society and to support those who help care for them. Riveting stuff, I know.)

If someone is wrong and awful- don’t just spit back that they are wrong and awful. Don’t walk away. Walk with. Walking with someone isn’t condoning their opinions, it’s certainly not jeopardizing yours if you know your own mind. It’s tense, you’ll need breaks, but deep caring has longevity.  It has persistence. If you truly care about (pick something) then you will persist. You’ll do the work. You’ll hold the tension. Not necessarily because you will actually change someone’s mind in the end, but because you think it’s important enough to try to.

This obviously takes a lot of energy. It takes a long time. You also won’t really be popular with the “progressive” people if you give space to unpopular people with backwards opinions to express them. And you won’t be popular with the “backwards” people for making them question their traditional thinking when you’re with them. You’re not in it for the likes or shares. Or even results.

This is why outrage culture is deceptive. No one can care in the true sense of the word about EVERY THING that leaves a collectively bitter taste in our mouths. I’m tired of having to feel like I need to parrot my awareness to a shallow abyss.

And back to balance. There’s also been a total lack of stillness that goes something like:

“NOW! OMG! We need to do things! What things?! Anything! We to help! To make it stop! Start a movement for the world! Change for the Better! YOLO HARDER! Get involved! Stay INFORMED!”

It’s crazed and frenetic energy. Unbalanced by not having periods of rest. Hyped up on socially pressurized caffeine.

I will give an example. I heard about a “retreat” today that is now a “symposium” about a social justice topic. It’s good to learn about things but: THAT IS NOT A RETREAT! A retreat is marked by a withdrawal. Plunging into yet another topic or activity isn’t a rejuvenating experience! I’m tired of calls to action without the refreshment of marked and protected periods for true stillness.

Type A’s ruin everything.

There’s this attitude where being idle or still is thought as something criminal (thanks Puritans). Stillness is NOT wasteful. We need to retreat and to withdraw, even collectively as communities. We need to put it all aside and rest for a few minutes. We need to wander freely and aimlessly. Pleasure without purpose. Resting in support of each other. Otherwise we’ll all burnout emotionally and mentally. We can’t constantly be struggling to reach something on the top shelf. We have to put our arm down sometime and let our heels return to the floor. That’s how stretching works. It’s how we stay grounded.

Anyway thanks for putting up with my squawking this time.

My hat’s off to you,

Sharon

Two Steps Back Today

Currently, as I write this, I am flaking out on exploring an interest. Again. I was going to volunteer with…, well, I guess it doesn’t really matter. Because I didn’t go.

I started worrying about it actively yesterday afternoon. Although, subconsciously I knew I wouldn’t go when I finally got around to sending in the paperwork. I think I try to cross all the “t’s” and dot all the “i’s” in an attempt to get myself to follow through with things. I even told people this time, in hopes that social pressure would make me go.

It didn’t.

I don’t know when I started believing I wasn’t capable of a lot of things. I get super panicked if asked to do something that is not squarely in the middle of my comfort zone. So I’m stuck on the edge, not able to pick up my hat and follow through with a new experience. At least, not today. The silly thing about being stuck on the edge is the longer you are there, the more you have time to over think how you’re going to fall.

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Hat on Edge

I used to just not think anything of it and show up to help with xyz despite being a tad nervous. Sure, I was always shy and introverted, but I felt like it was more acceptable when I was a teenager/early adult. I felt like someone would be responsible for me, my short-comings, and my flaws. They would make up for me being there. So maybe I always thought I wasn’t particularly good at some things, but it wasn’t a huge deal. I had support. Now in my 30’s with my first few gray hairs showing, I feel like people just throw me into the pool because I look as if I’m a capable adult. They assume I know how to swim. Maybe because I come off laid-back people assume they don’t need to explicitly walk me through things? This is very wrong. Yet, my introvert/shyness prevents me from directly complaining or sticking up for what I need at the beginning. So I float along like a little bundle of stress until I get out of the water abruptly or explode and sink to the bottom.

People are surprised when I do that. I feel like they should have seen it coming, which is completely arrogant of me. I do think I vent a lot about my unhappiness or stress. But maybe it’s all swirling inside my head a lot more than on the outside. I doubt it though. I sometimes think I should be permanently quiet since a lot of things I vocalize are negative.

Which brings me back to wanting to focus attention off of myself (since I’m obviously sick of thinking about myself) and try to find a commitment to do good for the sake of others. Think about others. Live for others. However, I question the sincerity of my intentions. Am I wanting to live for others simply because I don’t know what I am living for yet? A sort of phantom purpose.

The answer is: it doesn’t matter because I don’t do them anyway. I start thinking about all the energy, all the unknowns, all the time spent, etc. and end it before I begin, before I fall. Maybe it’s a sign that I can’t use projected ideals to find my way forward. I keep taking two steps back- retracing my life in hopes I can find where I took the short-cut that left me so lost.

So yeah. Two fold problems:

1.) Not thinking I am capable to do things

2.) Discovering if I actually want to do them.

I feel like when I used to be able to follow through and do things I had a clearer idea of what I wanted or who I was despite feeling underqualified. Now, I feel like I’m sometimes still acting on things I like the IDEA of instead of things I actually like. Yet, this is also hard to determine when you can’t bring yourself to try them out. It’s been hard disappointing myself so often these days. I look forward to the day I can have the confidence to take that one step forward. I haven’t lost all hope, just some.

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I call this “Partial Hope Loss”

But for now, I’ll put on my hat and write about my plight. I know I can do that. Thanks for listening.
My hat’s off to you,

Sharon

A Reluctant Meditation

 “I ponder of something great
My lungs will fill and then deflate
They fill with fire, exhale desire
I know it’s dire my time today
I have these thoughts, so often I ought
To replace that slot with what I once bought
‘Cause somebody stole my car radio
And now I just sit in silence…
Sometimes quiet is violent”

~Lyrics to Car Radio by Twenty-One Pilots

I read about meditation. I read about contemplation. I read about prayer. I read about musing and pondering and imagining. I read about concentration. I read about it. I read about how others do it. I read about all the benefits. I read about the accoutrements and got a friend to fashion us personalized seiza meditation benches. I read about the methods, the breathing, the effects, the percentages of things in your life which will increase or decrease because of it. I read about it.

And… I don’t do it.

Well, I don’t consistently do it. I would say once or twice a month I find time to sit. To be still. To check in with silence. I do still consistently read about it. I do want to do it. And for a time, I used to. I used to go to a Soto Zen Buddhist Sangha for an hour-long meditation every Wednesday and would often find time to do 10-15 minutes on other days.

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Meditation isn’t always pretty.

I look back with wonder. I can’t sit still now for 5 minutes. I wonder why I’m so unsettled.
But then I look back further. And I know it’s because I feel scared.

I remember my first entry into meditation with that Sangha. I remember settling into big cushions. I remember the incense. The crisp and quiet smoke littering the air with spice. The singing bowl sang and I remember being led into the art of letting go while we all turned to stare at our individual patches of wall, glowing under the soft light of a church basement.

Then after about 10 minutes, I remember being absolutely terrified.

I wanted to panic, but I couldn’t really panic in front of these people I just met. I was also very confused as to why I felt like somewhere in the shadows someone was watching me. I felt like prey. The hair on the back of my neck pricked up. I wanted to revert to amusement, because I certainly felt silly. Sitting there, in a sculpted heaven of a moment, being petrified. I had to do something. Laugh, cry, leave?

I almost left. I almost opened my eyes. I almost ruined my confrontation with deflecting to humor. But, like the lyric above: I just sat in silence.

And wow. This first silence of mine was very violent. This rush of fear flooding out of you, drowning you. I was completely caught off guard by why it was I was feeling this threatened, this anxious, this wild.

I think it was because I was only used to who I was on the surface. I never had stopped long enough to excavate myself. This falling down into my core felt out of my control. Feeling physically afraid was a manifestation me being afraid to look behind the curtain and really check in with myself in the here and now. No magical hats to hide behind. Just silence.

Oh, but the silence is relentless no matter how comfortable the cushion you’re sitting on is. If anything, you peek behind your curtain from sheer mind-wandering boredom. Your ego screams “DON’T!” but it’s too late. You just made eye contact directly with yourself.

I’m glad I did. During that hour, I felt dreadful for forever when somehow it clicked. I started trusting myself to honestly and gently accept what was happening. I accepted I was afraid. I accepted myself and my life. Moment by moment I accepted, I let go. I accepted, I let go. Then suddenly, I wasn’t fearful. I was simply feeling fear.

Read that again:
I was not fearful.
I was feeling fear.

The subtlety of such grammar invokes powerful mental shifts. I am filled with gratitude for the silence that night. I knew I felt anxious, but I didn’t know how deep it went emotionally. I didn’t know I could feel that strongly.

So that’s why I think I’ve been avoiding meditation. Right now, my life feels pretty aimless. I’m not unhappy, but I don’t want to sit with my own discomfort about it. I don’t want to wade through the slow process of developing flexibility, patience, and courage. I know it will take discipline. I know it won’t always leave me feeling amazing. Empowered, yes, amazing, no. It’s like medicine. You take it to make you feel better, not because it necessarily tastes like gourmet meal.

On the surface, meditation looks like a free, floating, hippie, dazed, lazy, and happy thing. But it’s a practice. There is work involved. There’s commitment. A particularly hard part is there isn’t any grading scale telling you how well you are doing it. You rely on awareness and practice.

Yoda the Jedi master explains it the most succinctly “Do or do not, there is no try.” You sit and mediate or you don’t. There isn’t such thing as “trying to meditate.” If you sit in silence and think you are trying to meditate, you are meditating. Easy. Accepting the silence, sitting through discomfort, letting go of how you compare. Not easy.

Don’t get me wrong, I’ve had good experiences in meditation as well. The feeling like you are soaring. Opening my eyes and feeling like my brain was just massaged. I just think I had these incorrect ideals and expectations about what I would “get” from meditation because in trying to attract people to actually sit down and do it, people overplay the overtly positive benefits. I was definitely caught off-guard my first time and because of my definite resistance this time, I can only imagine I might be in for a ride again in order to rebalance myself. And I am reluctant.

But, this time around its different because in all my research and the bit of practice I did have before- you become aware of everything loud and busy that we have become so good at filling silence with so we don’t have to be with ourselves. So this time, I am fully aware when I’m purposefully distracting myself. When I make sure Hulu or Spotify is on when I eat. When I scroll through other people’s lives on social media because I don’t want to look at my own. When I talk about nothing out loud so I don’t have to think about something in quiet.

Then there are the rules I make up in my head. Maybe you’ve done this with something like exercise or starting anything new. Rules like “I’ll start on Monday.” “I can only do it at this specific time during the day” “I’m not ready, I will start after I read this book about the method I want to try.” “I will start after I get the right equipment.”

Then Monday comes, you start- and fail to continue to Tuesday.
Or you get to Tuesday and your specific time of day comes and goes because you were stuck at work late. So instead of finding time later or attempting 5 of your 30 minutes- you don’t even do it at all.
And you keep putting off reading that method book.
Or you do manage to read it and you are intimidated by all the things you are trying to put into practice at once, then just plain give up.

The only thing we all seem to be good at in aligning our actions to our desires is buying the “right” equipment. Behold our capitalistic safety blankets: Treadmills covered in clothes. Climbing shoes still in the box. Skis and kayaks cluttering garages. Language softwares taking up hard drive space. Expensive kitchen appliances collecting dust. Classic novels you’ve never read on your book shelf.

All these rules and all of these things we buy are just childish ideals. Reality is more gritty. You’ll never be ready and there is no perfect way to do it. The key to actually practicing something is: you just have to do it more than you say you want to.

So right now my hat is telling me to stop being a hypocrite. Instead of reaching for my methods book, or typing more, or avoiding it: I am going to go sit in silence.

BUT!

Before I go, I want to encourage you to try it with me. Set a timer on your phone for 10 minutes. Literally Google: “How to meditate” don’t over think it, and go from there. Expect the unexpected. Don’t be daunted by discomfort. Check in with how your silence feels these days. Let me know how it goes.

If you are interested in learning more about meditation and contemplative living some human resources I’ve found helpful :

Pema Chodron
Thich Nhat Hanh
Richard Rohr
Thomas Keating
Fr Christopher Jamison
Karen Cavanagh inspired by Rumi

Admittedly they are from a variety of mostly religious traditions as meditation’s history is intertwined with many spiritual rituals. Know that there are other philosophical and non-religious practitioners of meditation, because it makes sense the experience of meditation would only reflect whoever is practicing it. I just took who came to me on my journey (mostly Buddhist and Christian sources), and no secular persona has captured my attention yet- the closest person I can think of is Alan Watts, but I think he was relatively spiritual. If you know of someone from your own experience I’m interested.

Hat’s off to you,

Sharon

Eden of Emptiness

There are times when you feel nothing. You’re too empty to fill yourself up, let alone push feelings out again. You have no reactions, yet you are overloaded. I’m not talking about depression. (At least, I don’t think I am.)

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An empty hat can be heavy too.

I’m talking about exhaustion with the rhythms of life. These rhythms are dramatically sharp and staccatoed as you play through them, keeping you hopping from one event, one decision, one paycheck, one person, one love, one city- to the next. They are also completely repetitious. Variations on a theme. Over and over, the solid techno beat of our lives pounds in the background. Slowly numbing our senses. Until one day, you wake up and you can’t join the rave anymore.

Moment to moment we stress, we try, we get upset, we get over it, we succeed, we are still unsatisfied, we start on something else. Over the years you look back are surprised at how little impact most of those things you felt were important had (and maybe they even actually were important on principle). Yet, you continue the pattern of imbuing the next thing that captures your attention with the same weight of meaning. For example, a blog about my hat. So you sensibly ask the void, “well then, does anything have meaning at all?”

Never fear.

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There is something you can do.

When you’re empty,  it is the best time to explore. Dive down into your empty space and imagine. Imagine the most comfortable version of yourself lives there. The version of yourself you’d send into the universe for first contact. The version of yourself you can live with. The version of yourself you could die with.

This is not be the “best” version of humanity you’ve internalized and stressed over, compared yourself with, and have been found wanting again. I couldn’t live with that version of myself. Perfection is rarely loving. I’m talking about just the most you version of you.

So imagine. What would this version of you let into their empty space? What would decorate their walls? Would they even have walls? What are they wearing? (Maybe a hat?) What kind of lighting would fill the space? Would there be anything going on you’d like to do? What colors do you see? Would there be anyone else there? Do you hear or smell or taste anything specific?

This is your Eden of Emptiness. Plan out as many details you can muster. It is, by your own admission, a blank slate.

Then ask yourself if there is anything from your Eden that you can actually do in your life. It can be small. Like… if you had the aroma of lilacs filling your emptiness (because who wouldn’t !?), maybe you can buy a lilac scented candle and burn it while you take a shower.

Cultivate your emptiness away. Don’t choose the vague notion of trying not to feel empty, aimless, or unimportant. Don’t choose a diffuse goal of “trying to think more positively” when you have no way of getting there. In my experience, trying to weed out negative or uncomfortable, or exhausting feelings works just as well as weeding regular weeds. They are going to come back (unless you use a more toxic and harsh approach), and your energy is wasted.

Maybe we shouldn’t define what grows in unexpected places “weeds” just because we don’t want them there. I’ve always thought dandelions were beautiful. They are so vibrant, like hundreds of tiny suns dotting yards and parks. Maybe instead of weeding something that may not be the problem, we can concentrate on growing other things alongside the rest. Taking care to slowly grow in the directions your emptiness allowed you to see through its dandelion sunshine.

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The harvest from an empty Eden.

 

 

My hat is getting full again. The harvest continues.

 

Until next time- hat’s off to you,

Sharon

 

 

The Power of Nope?

Have you ever noticed that “nope” and “no” weigh differently?

“No” has a gravity to it. It sinks down deeper, it falls faster, lands harder, and indents the face of whoever you must say it to. I will stress right now that there are definitely proper occasions for a solid “no” (and that’s basically whenever you feel a need to say it). But the severity of the single syllable makes it hard for it to cross my lips when I am simply trying to ease away from an opportunity or invitation from a colleague or friend.

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Hat Experiment: When saying no is hard, try saying nope.

You can’t do everything, you can’t be everything.

We know this. It’s old news. It’s just hard to live out. It’s the sad truth of having your whole being wrapped up in a finite and somewhat squishy container called a body. Now, if we were some sort of vapour-like substance maybe we could do everything there is to do within our realm of existence. However, if I remember correctly from science class (who am I kidding? Science class = The Magic School Bus) we’d be stuck doing some sort of water cycle, and while plummeting from the sky to the earth just sounds like heaps o’ fun, I doubt vapour-like substances have the breadth and depth of experiences we are likely to overlook in our current life: the coolness of water on your throat, the vibrations of a cat’s pur on your lap, the electricity of a kiss, the long strrreetch of a sore muscle, the smell of cookies, the smell of oatmeal chocolate chip cookies, the smell of oatmeal chocolate chip cookies in your mouth… (You want cookies now don’t you? Me too…)

The best and worst part of being bound in a finite squishy meat suit is you get to choose stuff. You get to choose what to drink, who to kiss, and which cookies you’re going to eat first.

Which brings us back to no. You can choose what you say no to.

This week I had to say it.

I say “say” it but really I typed it. People always think that’s unprofessional or disrespectful, but I disagree. Me, spluttering nonsense because the conversation goes differently than what I practiced for hours in my head and being swayed to a different outcome by a more dominant personality which: makes me complain, be overwhelmed, and begrudgingly do a half-way job is unprofessional. Me, irrationally attaching negative feelings to the person who asked for my time or my committment to something I did not have the time nor the energy to give it is disrespectful.

Some of us may think “I don’t do that. I still try. I don’t take it out on the messenger.”

Hog. Frickin. Wash.

The phrase “don’t shoot the messenger” wouldn’t exist if it wasn’t the first inclination we have in our emotional gray matter. Or maybe you’re just a much better person than me. Either way, think back to the last time you were forced to say no very directly. Maybe it was after trying to say it more indirectly. For me, it’s awkward and intense. You brave eye contact only to watch people’s faces get indented when your “no” hits them. They try to hide the wave of hurt or surprise or disappointment in that shallow space on their face. But we all see it. Worse, we know we all see it. (Well, unless you’re from 1950’s movies or North Korea- they are crazy good at facade…)

So for here and now, I think as long as you try to communicate honestly, it shouldn’t matter the form it comes in. I would even accept the initial communication of a break-up or being fired in the form of the written word. It gives a chance to react without judgement. It gives us a chance to explore not only what we feel, but why we feel it. I would still encourage a face to face meeting for closure, but just reacting at someone isn’t going to make you feel better. You entering into a conversation with clear reasoning and important points to talk about will bring healing. You’ll know that you’ve said all you needed to say. It’s worth writing down if it’s important enough to yell about. Otherwise, your words are just wind.

But I digress most epically…

So yeah, this week I managed to pull some strength out of my mystical hat and typed assertively “thanks, but no thanks,” for being a part of an extra work project. Immediately after the swift resolution and my removal from the project, I wondered why I didn’t say “no” from the beginning. If I’m being as honest as my hat journey requires me to be- it was a combination of a huge, ugly smudge of pride from being singled-out and asked (as in: “yay someone realized how great I am! Now smother me in validation”) and a pinch of vindictive curiosity (as in: what DO people in that department DO all day?).

Once off the project, I was sooo happy compared to even the day before. Maybe my emotions swing in an arc that is wider than others. Maybe I’m unstable. Maybe I’m sensitive. Maybe I’m not that good at having a job. Maybe I’m self-centered. Maybe I’m self-preserved. Whatever the case, it was an amazing feeling not being on that project.

Which brings us to nope.

I believe, whereas I couldn’t say “no” from the beginning, I would have had an easier time saying “nope” and avoided all face-indentation scenarios. Sure, there would be confusion when I reply “nope,” since it doesn’t seem as solemn or sincere at first. However, in clarifying  that confusion, they would see I was genuine in my refusal.

Here’s how I think it would work:

“Hey OhWithAHat – do you want to go – do you want to help with – do you have time to ?”

“Nope! Thank you!” OhWithAHat replied cheerily.

“Wait, are you serious? You’re response confused me.” they laughed.

“Entirely.” said OhWithAHat.

“Oh, well why? We think you’d like it, or be good at it, or fit in well.”

“Because I said Nope! I don’t have the time or energy to do that right now. But thank you.” stated OhWithAHat.

“Oh, okay!” they said.

This is the possible (?) power of “nope” my friends. “Nope” has a lightness to it. It has an element of humour in its usage too. Humor leads to feelings of happiness. Both parties walk away in good spirits, despite you declining their offer. Added potential bonus: the confusion may make them cut the conversation short as they will feel less in control of what’s happening. Awesome.

To prove the negative: imagine if you heard “Just Say Nope,” when you were in middle school and they were trying their best to drill the negative effects of drugs into you. It doesn’t have enough authority to it.  It sounds ridiculous because of the contextual meaning we have given to “no” vs “nope.” Plus linguistically, the pop of the “p” sound at the end of “nope” is just a more amusing mouth movement because it uses your lips to form the sound and can’t be sustained and dragged through the air like the “o” in “no.” Try it. Or don’t. Your call.

Anyway, I am hoping this “nope” strategy will allow me to approach these sorts of situations a little more lightly as well. Ego aside, I obviously put a lot of pressure on myself during those moments to not feel like I’m letting people down when I decline their offers. I know I’m not responsible, I just feel responsible. I think I’ll always feel it. I’m sensitive. Or unstable. Or whatever. At the very least, maybe their hope for a “yes” will transform into perplexed eyebrows and quizzical head-tilts when I use “nope.” Best case scenario is that just maybe they will mirror my weird, misplaced positivity and their face won’t be crushed at all. I’m just trying to keep your faces normal people! Because apparently, I can be tortured using non-verbal communication.

So that’s my crazy/weird plan. That’s the best me and my thinking cap/hat could come up with. I’m going  to test it when opportunities present themselves.  If you try it, I would be interested in how it went. Or, if you have other tips or suggestions for declining things (other than “don’t let it bother you” I need practical and applicable examples at this point in the game), let me know that too.

Until next time.

My hats off to you,

Sharon