What’s at the root of (un)happiness? How can you start and maintain a daily meditation practice? Where might minimalism fit in? And what about politics? Better Humaning is where I write about all that and more.
Policing Voting vs. Nuance
You can complain about politics if you don’t vote.
You’re not a bad human if you don’t vote.
You can still be my friend if you don’t vote.
And voting is an exceptional way to complain.
And it’s a perfect way to stake a claim in your humanity.
And it’s a wonderful way to show up for your friends.
Mistakes don’t guarantee learning, but learning requires mistakes.
Be the wind, or risk becoming the sail.
Last spring, I got to spend a couple weeks in rural Ontario giving a few dozen (!) talks, assemblies, and shows at schools and organizations around the province. Every time I visit the Ontario countryside, I’m struck by how much it reminds me of my now-home state of Texas, in ways that are equal parts comfy (lots of hospitality) and uncomfy (lots of camouflage and usage of the word “lifestyle”). But this trip was different.
In years past, the ideas I was presenting (i.e., social justice and anti-oppression concepts, centered around gender) were mostly received as new. And the questions aligned with that. But this year, a lot of the questions I was hearing weren’t responding to what I was saying on stage, as much as they were addressing things that were already bouncing around students’ minds before I got there. I just became the first “spokesperson” for social justice they were able to confront IRL.
For example, in years past I got a lot of questions about things like “What do you mean gender and sexuality aren’t the same?” Or “What do you mean a woman can’t ‘oppress’ a man?”
But this year, a bunch of times (double digits) during Q&As I was asked something that amounted to “So gender is a social construct, and so is race, so why are we accepting of Caitlyn Jenner but not Rachel Dolezal?” By high schoolers. In rural Texas Ontario.
Hold that thought. I’ll return to it, but first I want to take a step back. Continue reading → “I can’t stop thinking about the “Social Justice Dogma,” or keeping quiet.”
I wish I never had to read another email.
This is something I’ve said thousands of times, aloud and in my head (mostly in my head). I’ve said it in anger after opening another death threat. I’ve said it in frustration when an email sent me down a rabbit hole that took me away from a project I had planned for the day. It’s been an underlying sentiment for years, but it wasn’t until recently that it turned into a concrete plan:
I am going to stop reading emails.
But how?Continue reading → “The Road Away From Email”
Political discourse is at a place where it’s hard — if not impossible — to see it as productive. Most times, it doesn’t even seem like folks who are arguing have a vision for anything being accomplished by that argument, other than hearing words yelled.
Facts have been weaponized and are lobbed as projectiles, not used as tools to build a bridge from one perspective to another. Opinions are worn like armor, used to protect ourselves from the bombardment of facts. We scream for our ideas to drown out the screams of others for theirs.
If sports are modeled after war, as many people say, our political discourse has taken a form modeled after the way we talk about sports.Continue reading → “A Fix: Politics Not Reminiscent of Sports”
I’m on day 9 of 100 in my quest to making meditation an integral part of my daily routine. At just shy of 10%, I have already learned a lot that will inform the next 90. I’m going to walk through what I’m planning to draw upon, from most concrete to most abstract.
1. Tools matter.
There’s this famous Audre Lorde quote that gets tossed around a lot in the social justice activism spaces I occupy: “For the master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house.”
Folks generally take it to mean that you can’t undo a harmful system using components that support that harmful system, or by working within that system.
There are lots and lots of debates about that quote, and you can read them (or we could get into them another time), but for now it’s the second part of the quote that I am appealing to (the part that is often omitted): “They may allow us to temporarily beat him at his own game, but they will never enable us to bring about genuine change.”
It’s this idea, that the master’s tools may temporarily allow us to be him at his own game, that I’ve found to be particularly salient this past week. Indeed, I’ve managed to turn just about every thing in my life that led me to mindlessness into a tool to help me practice mindfulness.Continue reading → “Maintaining a Daily Meditation Habit”
About a year ago I committed to writing on this site every day for 100 days in a row. Today, I’m committing to something similar and different: I’m going to start meditating every day, for at least the next 100.
Let me explain why, and how I plan to do it.
I’ve had an inconsistent meditation practice for about a decade now. At its best, I meditate every day for a streak of a week or two. At its worst, I meditate once a month.
But here’s the thing: I know that meditation makes me happier, calmer, work better, think clearer — it makes me better. Every time. I can even verify this for myself with some [obviously slanted] data: looking back at my journal, and comparing that against the records from the meditation app I use (Calm), I can see that on days I meditate I almost always finish every task I set out to do in the morning. I’m also more gracious, thoughtful, and patient in my responses.
On the days I don’t meditate, well, I get by, but I’m a bit messier. And sometimes those days turn into weeks into months. That’s what’s happened these past few weeks.
And the science backs this up, right? We all know this, if we exist even a little on the internet. Just google “the scientific benefits of meditation” and bask in the bazillion hits of glory.Continue reading → “Building a Daily Meditation Habit”
I’m my own worst critic. A lot of us are. I don’t like this about myself. A lot of us don’t. But I finally have a strategy to make it stop happening.
Of course we’re our own worst critics: we know better than anyone else our abilities, capacities, our “should”s — we know our potential, so we know when we fall short. We know our dreams, our honest-to-goodness, non-filtered-for-“reality” dreams. We know the lessons we should have learned, the mistakes we keep making.
We have all the data to give ourselves the most accurate grade possible, and the way we were taught to grade as kids is to start at 100 and work our way backwards. I’m not as happy as I should be despite my privileges. Minus 1. Why did I engage in that harmful relationship that was so much like the other harmful relationships I was in? Minus 5, one for each. Minus 2 more for not learning the lesson. Minus 10 for pointing out a “flaw” in someone else you know you embody. And so on.
From “I would never treat anybody this way.”
This is something I have heard myself say dozens of times. I know that I have an unhealthy standard I set for myself, and that with other people I lead with compassion and understanding, while I never give myself the benefit of the doubt. This understanding is as far as I’ve gotten, or at least it was. And for good reason: I can’t give myself the benefit of the doubt, because there is no doubt.
I know. I know better. I know what I should be doing. How I should be feeling. I know.
It’s easy for me to treat other people with compassion when they experience a shortcoming I would berate myself for, because I don’t know if they know what I know. I don’t know if they know we create our own obstacles to happiness. But I do. I know that. So I should be better.
What’s worse: I know I shouldn’t should. Oops. There I go again. But I know better. That’s why. I know what I know, and I know better. That’s at the crux of all of this.
To “I would never treat any body this way.”
I’ve been working with a business coach, her name is Paula, at the suggestion of a friend. I am doing a lot of stuff, but I have been doing it in an emotionally, physically, financially (and plenty of other-ially) unsustainable way. Paula is just plain delightful, but also sharp as a tack.
We were chatting about the issue of how I struggle with the hate campaigns that get pointed in my direction. It just feels wrong, and makes me physically ill, which makes it hard for me to do anything. Then I get frustrated with myself for feeling that way, because intellectually I know that I shouldn’t allow others’ misconceptions of me and my work to affect my well-being. It’s silly. So then I’m frustrated two-fold. Inception of frustration. Not ideal.
I wasn’t sure what, if anything, would come from it. I’ve thought about this a lot. Then she pointed out something I already knew.
“Your intellect has matured to this point, but your limbic system hasn’t.”
Right. That’s true. That’s the annoying part. It’s that I know I shouldn’t be experiencing this body discomfort, this genuine ill. It makes me sick. It hurts in my chest. That’s what annoys me. That’s the double-whammy.
Then she said basically the same thing, again, but this time I heard it differently.
These are separate. My intellect — my mind, the higher logic, my me — is not my body — my limbic brain, my reflexes, my physical response system. The first one is the one that writes on this site, that gives advice to others, and that sometimes (oftentimes) berates the second one.
Applying Sanford’s Theory of Challenge & Support to Myself
In grad school, one of the most important things I learned was that we need to meet someone where they are, and help them grow incrementally toward who they want to be.
The theory being that if you challenge someone too much, they’ll become overwhelmed; and if you support them too much, they’ll stagnate; the appropriate combination for growth is challenge mitigated by support.
The idea being that you don’t go from 1 to 100. You go from 1 to 2. 2 to 3. 3 to 4. And so forth.
Previously, I had been treating my limbic self (my body’s reflexive responses to these external stimuli) as being on the same level as my intellectual self (the higher reasoning self that has spent way too much time thinking about these things).
I was holding myself to a high standard, which would be fine if I just had one self and it was at a high level. But that’s not what’s happening. There are two selfs here: one part of me needs challenge to thrive (the intellectual part), as well as a second part of me that needs support (the limbic part).
Moving Forward: Supporting instead of Challenging
It’s time that I stop holding my body to a standard that I would never hold anybody else to. It’s time I start realizing that knowing something intellectually isn’t the same as experiencing it, and that’s okay. To know that the way for my body to catch up with my mind is by meeting it where it’s at, the same way I’d meet anybody where they’re at.
Right now, my body isn’t okay with a lot of things my mind understands and can rationalize with ease. My body craves things my mind doesn’t (like cheese and sunburn). It reacts to things in immature ways (like how I sometimes almost vomit with sadness when I read the horrible things people say about me on the internet — people who don’t, and likely never will, know me).
Pretending it doesn’t, or yelling that it shouldn’t, won’t change that. Maybe someday — hopefully someday — it’ll catch up, but that’s not going to happen if I keep trying to make it go from a 1 to 100. I need to focus on getting it to 2 first, or I’m not going to get anywhere. And to do that, I need to treat it how I would treat any other body: with compassion, understanding, and support.
And that’s something my mind can totally (finally) get behind.
Stop. Whatever else you’re doing. Stop.
Turn off your music. Turn off the TV, Netflix Instant Streaming, Hulu+, Amazon Prime, all the things you use to fill your time. Not forever, not for long, but for right now, this moment, stop. Continue reading → “Be Bored”
I made a new friend (not bragging) who is so awesome (totally bragging) she makes me seem boring (humble bragging). I love making new friends. I love the adventure, the mystery, toeing and pushing the line, oversharing with whimsy — I love every step of the way.
A few days ago I got tricked into rage-reading an article on some ratchet link-bait site written by someone who is probably named Yolo Swaggington — I digress. Let me try again. I read an article about a married couple that still “dates” one another. It was a couple thousand words, but that’s all it said: married people should date each other. I’m onboard. Totally. Sounds great. But I don’t think that going to the movies more is going to fix your marriage, Mr. (Dr.?) Swaggington, PhD. But the idea of treating your partner and thinking about your relationship with the same excitement and privilege you felt at the beginning, now that’s something I can really get behind.
But it’s also not that novel of an idea. We all know about the “honeymoon” phase of romantic relationships. I sitcoms with fat dads and skinny, model-attractive moms taught me anything, it’s that marriage is boring. And laugh tracks are annoying. There’s always that episode where their marriage gets strained and one of them cooks up the crazy idea to appreciate the other person, generally with some variation of the line, “I’m going to start loving you again as much as I loved you the first time I told you I loved you.” The studio audience lets out a big “D’awwwww” there’s a hug, a kiss, and that’s how boring television is made.
What we don’t see, or really talk about, is the same phenomenon happening in platonic relationships. Truthfully, we don’t talk much about platonic relationships at all. You see plenty of “24 Tips For Putting the Spice Back In Your Relationship” but rarely “18 Ways To Platonically Spice Up Your Platonic Relationship” (spoiler: #3 in both lists is “Don’t wear underwear tomorrow, but shhh… our little secret.”). All relationships go through phases, and all relationships that are meaningful to you deserve attention, intention, and care.
I’m going to start trying to treat my old friends in a similar way that I treat new friends. Here are a few things I’m thinking of that I can keep in my mind to help me do so:
- Be genuinely curious about everything in their life. I generally try to be attentive and present, but I realize that with many old friends I’m not the information vacuum that I am with new friends. This is partly because I know so many of those things about them already, but that’s a weaksauce excuse. Even with the people I know the best, it’s likely a lot more tip of the icebergy than I realize.
- Ask and learn how they want to be treated, and how I can be a better friend. I tend to do a good job Platinum Ruling new people, and a rubbish job Platinum Ruling the people who I’ve known the longest. Enough of that.
- Tell them things about myself directly, instead of assuming they’ll know (“they should know this by now”) or expecting them to read about it on Facebook, Twitter, Interwhatever.
- Be excited when I get to see them. And be excited that I get to be their friend. It’s a pretty sweet deal, y’all. I feel pretty strongly that I’m getting away with great train robbery more often than not.
There are many, many more ways to try to bring the honeymoon back into my friendships (and I’m all ears to suggestions!), but I’m happy with these four being what I focus on now. When building a habit, it’s best to start small.