The Eternal Struggle


Do you ever feel like you’re fighting a battle in your own head between the side of you that wants to love everyone & be kind & peaceful & wonderful & the other side of you that wants to throw your hands up & say “To hell with it” because there is just so much negativity in the world that trying to be positive sometimes feels like entirely too much effort?

The Yin and Yang of Good and Evil

The Yin and Yang of Good and Evil

If you’re at all human, I think the answer to this question will be a resounding “YES!”  After all, if this isn’t the eternal struggle that we all face, I don’t know what is.

Lately this struggle has become more & more apparent in my own mind, for a variety of reasons I suppose.  In any case I end up feeling like I vacillate between being a modern day version of a hippie who wants to save the world & a grumpy old lady who can’t comprehend why the world just doesn’t make sense anymore.  To be perfectly honest, if living in this world doesn’t make you angry at times, then I have to seriously wonder about your sanitypema chodron quote 2

To expound a little further on this internal battle, the “soft” loving part of me sees all the negativity & pain in the world & seeks to find ways to soothe these wounds.  The gentle part of me sees a nasty, hateful person & wants to hug them & tell them that life has been far too cruel to them & they don’t deserve the misery they’ve suffered.  The “angel” in me goes out of my way to give food to the homeless, to open the door for strangers (particularly if they’re elderly or struggling to manage a baby or young children), & to generally be a calming, reassuring presence in an often chaotic world.  This softer side of me sees a sunset or looks up at the stars or lies in my lover’s arms & knows that this, THIS is exactly why I’m alive.  And it’s enough to offset all the sorrows & struggles that life inevitably brings.dalai lama quote temple

But then there’s the other, “colder” part of me that sees all the negativity in the world & just wants to scream.  Natural disasters are frightening & often tragic, but those I can handle to a certain degree because I know they’re inevitable; they’re clearly beyond our control as human beings.  It’s the pain we cause ourselves that’s most difficult to watch: the wars; the violence within our society; the drug use; the physical, emotional, & sexual abuse that we use to tear each other apart; the divisiveness that pervades our society & constantly tries to polarize us into an “us vs them” mentality; the complete disregard for logic that the average person displays in their daily life.  THESE are the things that make me feel like a grumpy old lady who proclaims the world’s “going to hell in a handbasket.”frustration 1

To be a little more specific, here are some of the things that have really been griping me lately:

  • America’s cultural acceptance of obesity
  • The fact that the average American couldn’t find Afghanistan on a map (or globe)
  • Women (& men) who follow fashions (In case this seems superficial & you’re wondering why, it pisses me off that the same people who wouldn’t have been caught dead in skinny jeans five years ago are now wearing them on a daily basis because magazines & stores told them they were cool, & furthermore these same people won’t be caught dead in those same skinny jeans five years from now when they’re no longer cool anymore . . . I have two fashion rules & they’re very simple: If I like it, I’ll wear it, regardless of whether it’s in style or not. If I don’t like it or if it’s unduly uncomfortable, I won’t wear it, no matter how popular it is.  Why anyone would ever choose to make getting dressed any more complicated than this is beyond me.)
  • Pop music
  • Women who constantly complain about the dearth of good men in the world but also hold absolutely no standards for the men they date (aka have sex with)
  • Men who think it’s ok to stare at random women or make inappropriate remarks to them just for the hell of it

    In case you're wondering why pop music makes me angry, this quote explains it.

    In case you’re wondering why pop music makes me angry, this quote explains it.

I could go on & on but for the sake of not sounding too much like a “Negative Nancy” I’ll stop for now.

Here’s the thing that I’ve realized about this eternal battle that we all face within ourselves: both the softer & harder parts of ourselves are desperately needed in this world.  There are legitimate reasons to be happy & there are legitimate reasons to be angry.  And we cannot be either one of those things all the time.  It’s all about balance.  There are no negative or bad emotions.  There are only emotions & what we do with them.  Indeed we could not appreciate the “good” without the “bad.” emotion quote

I consider myself a humanist so I truly do believe that as human beings we have the power to effect a lot of positive change in this world.  And I truly believe we are the masters of our own destiny.

But I also believe that most of us do a really shitty job of exercising the power that we have over our own lives.  Please know that I am equally guilty of this at times, or I wouldn’t feel the need to write this post.  As I’ve mentioned before, I write this blog principally for myself, to maintain my own sanity & mental wellbeing.  If my musings somehow inspire others, that’s just icing on the cake, so to speak.humanism quote

So my message to myself & to anyone who happens to be reading this today is this: stop fighting against yourself.  There are going to be days when you look at the world & ponder how lucky you are to experience all the wonders & joys that life can bring.  And then there will be other days when you just want to scream & pound your fists against the wall.  And there will be many more days on which you vacillate between these two extremes over & over throughout the day.  That’s just life.  It’s all a part of being human, & it’s ok.  As long as we’re alive on this earth, we’re going to face this internal struggle between the so-called “softer” & “harder” parts of ourselves.  The thing to do is to recognize the struggle & let it happen.  In other words, don’t fight it; let it fight itself.  None of us can ever be happy & peaceful & loving all the time.  Because of the evil that exists in this world, there are times when we really do need to be angry & frustrated because that is what pushes us to make a positive difference in this world.  Sometimes it’s this anger at the injustices in the world that gives us a reason to keep “fighting the good fight.”anger into action

So don’t let anyone ever tell you that your anger is a sin.  Life is all about balance.  None of us will ever be perfect at finding that balance, but that just gives us a reason to keep trying.

I’ll end today’s post with what might be my favorite song ever by In This Moment.  Even if you don’t normally like their music, I implore you to give this song a listen.  I find it so inspirational & empowering that I seriously question your humanity if you can listen to it & not be moved in some way.maria brink

Here are the lyrics:

I don’t need you to save me
I don’t need you to cure me
I don’t need you
And your antidote
For I am my disease

I don’t need you to free me
I don’t need you to help me
I don’t need you
to lead me through the light
For I will always fall

And rise again
Your venomous heroine
‘Cause I’m a survivor
Yeah, I am a fighter

I will fall and rise above
And in your hate I find love
‘Cause I’m a survivor
Yeah, I am a fighter

I will not hide my face
I will not fall from grace
I’ll walk into the fire, baby
All my life I was afraid to die
But now I come alive inside these flames

You don’t want me to love you
You don’t want me to need you
You don’t want to look at me,
For you will turn to stone

You don’t want me to hurt you
You don’t want me to bite you
You don’t want me
Or my aching soul
For I will only fall

And rise again
Your venomous heroine
‘Cause I’m a survivor
Yeah, I am a fighter

I will fall and rise above
And in your hate I find love
‘Cause I’m a survivor
Yeah, I am a fighter

I will not hide my face
I will not fall from grace
I’ll walk into the fire, baby
All my life I was afraid to die
But now I come alive inside these flames

I don’t need you to save me
‘Cause I’m a survivor
Yeah, I am a fighter

I will not hide my face
I will not fall from grace
I’ll walk into the fire, baby
All my life I was afraid to die
But now I come alive inside these
‘live inside these
‘live inside these flames

Breaking Stereotypes


Last night I was fooling around on YouTube as I often do, & in the process I discovered what to me is a new band: Motionless in White.  If you’re not familiar with them, they are a metal band based out of Scranton, PA & are fronted by a guy named Chris “Motionless” Cerulli who draws inevitable comparisons to Marilyn Manson.  As I always do when discovering a new band, I starting Googling the band & its lead singer, looking for interviews & such to familiarize myself with the band & to better connect with their music.  I soon discovered that despite the rather gothic appearance of the band, the lead singer is actually “straight edge” & is well-renowned for the fact that he has never smoked, drank, or used drugs & has no interest in such things.  In case you’re thinking this must be one of those Christian or pseudo-Christian metal bands, let me assure you Motionless in White is anything but that.  (On the other hand they are not Satanists either despite what some might naturally assume based on their appearance & the sound of their music).

I bought this album today, & it is EPIC.

I bought this album today, & it is EPIC.

chris motionless

From what I’ve read, Chris Motionless isn’t gay or transgender, despite having long hair & wearing a lot of make-up. How’s that for breaking stereotypes?

What struck me the most about this band is not only their unique sound but the lead singer’s ability to break stereotypes.  This led me to ponder my never-ending fascination with people who break stereotypes, whatever they may be.  As the Nigerian novelist, poet, & professor Chinua Achebe said, “The whole idea of a stereotype is to simplify. Instead of going through the problem of all this great diversity – that it’s this or maybe that – you have just one large statement; it is this.”  Indeed the world is very complicated & it’s not so shocking that society has created stereotypes to try to make sense of such a complex world.  And yet, the result of such stereotyping is that we often miss out on the joy that can be found in embracing the complexity of this world & the people around us.

chinua achebe quote

As some of you may know from reading previous blog posts, I grew up in a very small town in Virginia.  One of the saddest things about small towns is that stereotypes are so ingrained into the fabric of society that one can quite easily feel stifled in such places.  Over the past eight years since I graduated from high school I’ve often pondered the irony of how I graduated with some 140 odd students, the vast majority of us having been together in school since kindergarten or at least 3rd or 4th grade.  The result of this is that we all assumed we knew each other & often assigned each other to stereotypical roles & groups without much of a second thought.  The reality is that most of us knew next to nothing about each other, only what we THOUGHT we knew because we’d “known each other forever.”  I suppose this phenomenon occurs everywhere to a certain extent, but I daresay it’s worse in small towns where stereotypes can often be magnified due to the naturally insular nature of such places.stereotypes

In any case when I went to college I was immediately gratified by how so many people I met broke a lot of the traditional stereotypes I grew up around.  One of my best friends in college was a girl who had been an athlete in high school, yet she loved classical music, opera, & classic literature.  What also gratified me was finding that everyone I met didn’t naturally assume I was a boring nerd who couldn’t possibly be interesting, funny, or attractive.  Instead of being regarded as weird or dull because I’m naturally intelligent, people often seemed to find this intriguing. How gratifying!

As I’ve matured as an adult I continually find myself attracted to those who break stereotypes in one way or another.  Whether it’s a football player like Arian Foster who writes poetry & studies philosophy or a rock star like Chris Motionless who eschews drinking & drugs or some of my elderly patients who have iPads & are very adept with technology, I’m naturally drawn to those who somehow “break the rules” of what they’re “supposed” to be like because of their age, race, gender, or profession.

Many people probably wouldn't guess that Arian Foster writes poetry & studies philosophy . . . but he does.

Many people probably wouldn’t guess that Arian Foster writes poetry & studies philosophy . . . but he does.

At the end of the day, I consider myself fairly average.  When I say that I just mean that I’m not someone you’d look at twice in the grocery store, & yet I like to think I break a few stereotypes myself.  Today I thought it would be empowering to list a few of those & in doing so encourage my readers to think about the stereotypes they break in their own lives.  So here are a few ways in which I break the “rules of society.”

  • I love rock & roll & metal but I have no tattoos & no piercings, aside from standard earrings. I am not opposed to such things, but I just have no personal interest in them for myself.  When I go to rock shows, I’m often one of the only people without tattoos or piercings & who isn’t dressed in all or mostly black.  For some reason or other, I am often immediately assumed to be a “nice girl” & thus people are often shocked to find I like such heavy or “dark” music.  I resent the implication that people who value compassion & kindness can’t enjoy rock music, so I always enjoy the look on people’s faces when they find out some of my favorite bands are FFDP, Godsmack, & Halestorm.
  • On the other hand, when I go to country concerts, I’m always one of the only people not wearing cowboy (or should I say cowgirl?) boots. I’ve never owned a pair & don’t care to.  There’s nothing wrong with them; they’re just not my style.cowboy boots
  • Despite the fact that I grew up in a very rural area, I have only been fishing once & have no real interest in going again. I’ve also never been hunting or “mudding” & don’t particularly care to try either one.
  • Despite living in the South my entire life, I do not like sweet tea or gravy.
  • I’m an introvert who strongly prefers the city to the country.  When you really think about this, it’s actually quite logical because the anonymity of the city is far more suitable to an introvert like me who detests the idea of constantly having to make small talk.  In a small town everywhere you go, you see someone you know & thus feel compelled by some social construct to converse with them.introverts cats
  • I’m strongly considering becoming a mom in the next year or two (or three), but I love heavy metal & have no plans to stop listening to this music just because I have kids.
  • Sex, drugs, & rock & roll is a phrase that exists for a reason. But as much as I love this kind of music, I’m married to my first & only boyfriend, have never experimented with drugs or smoking, & drink alcohol only in moderation.  (Additionally there is a hell of a lot more to rock & roll than just sex & drugs, & if you don’t think so, you’re missing out on a lot in life.)
  • As much as I hate wars & violence, I am a strong supporter of gun ownership.  There are a whole host of logical reasons for this, but this isn’t the time or place to go into all that right now.gun-rights
  • I was a straight-A student in both high school & college, but I never once stayed up all night (or even half the night) studying for a test or final exam.
  • I’m a female who loves science & math, yet I also love literature, music, & history.
  • I’m a humanist & thus I don’t believe in moral absolutes, but despite what some people might think, I DO have moral & ethical standards for how I live my life, & I will teach them to my children someday.
  • I identify myself as a feminist because there are still plenty of places in the world where women do not have even basic human rights, but I do NOT hate men & I don’t think men automatically have an easier time in life.
  • I have no idea what happens after death (to be truly honest, NONE of us does because we haven’t been there), yet I volunteer with hospice & seem to have a special talent for caring for patients & their families at the end of life. Where most see only grief & suffering, I see a chance to make someone’s final days as painless as possible, to give that person a peaceful exit from this world, & to assist the family throughout this entire process.hospice

At the end of the day, I think we all break at least a few stereotypes in our lives, even if we’ve never given it a lot of thought.  Because stereotypes can be so damaging, I think we all could benefit from taking a few moments to think about what kind of stereotypes we break in our own lives as well as to examine the prejudices we might hold towards others due to common stereotypes in our society.

To end this post, I’ll leave you with a few quotes about stereotypes that I find very empowering & perhaps you will too.

Reducing a group to a slur or stereotype reduces us all.”   ~ DaShanne Stokes (author & human rights activist)

If you’re struggling to fit me into a box . . . Then build a bigger box!”   ~ Serina Hartwell (novelist)

P.S. If you want to check out Motionless in White, I’d strongly suggest starting with Reincarnate off of their latest album of the same name: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CVQC3bx_AXs

The Pain of Regret


When I was probably 19 or 20 I remember a friend of mine telling me that it was a point of pride with her grandmother that her husband of many decades had never even once seen her fully nude.  My friend & I both agreed that this was a ridiculous thing to be proud of, though it was probably not uncommon for our grandmothers’ generation to feel that way.  We also agreed that it was really quite a sad commentary on the mentality of many folks in older generations because it is reflective of a mindset that sees life as something to be feared rather than something to be experienced.

I’ve never forgotten that conversation for one reason or another & I was reminded of it again today.  While scrolling through my Facebook newsfeed I came across a meme that several friends had posted that said “I’d rather look back on life & think ‘I can’t believe I did that’ than ‘I wish I had,’” or something along those lines.  That quote prompted me to think about how it really is true that our biggest regrets in life are often the things we didn’t do rather than the things we did do.  Whenever I heard people say that when I was growing up I couldn’t understand it.  But now I do.  Because I don’t have a lot of regrets in life but the few I have are mostly the things I didn’t do. 

regrets

That meme also prompted me to think about how dangerous it is to live your life in fear & not experience so many of the wonderful things this world has to offer.  I’m a humanist so I believe that people are capable of both good & evil but if we focus our energies on the good we are capable of creating amazing things & effecting a lot of wonderful change on this planet.  That is exactly why I think it’s so dangerous to raise children in a society that constantly tells them they’re a bunch of lousy sinners who don’t deserve anything good.  When people have this kind of mentality drilled into their heads from day one, there is a tendency to never reach their highest potential.  There is also a tendency to think it’s frivolous to do things just for fun & to feel like you have to live your life making up for your all of your sins.  This leads to the kind of mindset where people think they are holier for not having high-speed internet or modern cell phones or other “worldly goods.”  I wish I were making this up, but I’m not.

I lived the first eighteen or so years of my life with a very long list of things I couldn’t do because they were wrong.  (I’m not talking so much about lying, stealing, or murder.  I’m talking more about movies, music, words, & drinks that were somehow deemed “evil” & thus to be avoided at all costs.  Obviously I am not advocating that life should be lived without any sort of basic morals.)  Somewhere along the line I’m so glad I realized that life isn’t meant to be lived that way.  I’m so thankful for the friends who encouraged me to have fun just for the sake of having fun.  I’m so glad I learned that having fun is NOT a sin, nothing to apologize for, & that I never need a “reason” to spend time with friends, go to a concert, discover a new band or restaurant, or just do whatever I please so long as it’s not hurting anyone else.

wine

This past weekend I went to a concert with a friend from work.  We had a great time & while there we discussed the fact that I’ve never been to a rap concert.  While I’m not a big fan of rap music I do like a few songs here & there, mostly from Flo Rida (embarrassing, I know but the songs I know by him are just fun songs that aren’t terribly crude or full of drug references), & one of my regrets in life is not going to a Flo Rida concert at my college a few years ago.  While I know there is a lot more to rap/hip-hop than “gangsta” rap & the other mainstream crap that is blasted on radio stations, it’s still not my favorite genre, but nonetheless I want to go to a rap concert at some point in my life.  It’s just an experience I think I should have.

Upper Cascades at Hanging Rock State Park near Greensboro, NC which we visited a few weeks ago

Upper Cascades at Hanging Rock State Park near Greensboro, NC which we visited a few weeks ago

What I’m trying to say is that life is meant to be experienced.  Our journeys on this Earth are way too short to be spent depriving ourselves of all of the joy life has to offer.  I’m in NO WAY suggesting you should go out & snort a few lines of cocaine, shoot up some heroin, or have unprotected sex with a stranger.  Those are all choices that have well-documented negative consequences & the chances of experiencing not only short-term but long-term ill effects are far too great.  Therefore those are not “life experiences” but simply bad decisions.  What I AM saying is that never letting your husband see you fully nude is just silly.  Never tasting a glass of wine because it’s “evil” is sad.  There IS such a thing as moderation & maybe if people weren’t so convinced that they’re horrible sinners they’d have the self-discipline to actually practice moderation.

To be clear I’m not advocating that people should focus only on having fun in life.  Obviously we need to be responsible mature adults who work hard, save money, & take care of ourselves & our families.  But that doesn’t mean we can’t or shouldn’t squeeze as much fun as we possibly can into our lives. 

I took this while climbing on the rocks at Acadia National Park on my honeymoon in Maine, August 2011.  Amazing experience.

I took this while climbing on the rocks at Acadia National Park on my honeymoon in Maine, August 2011. Amazing experience.

 

Spring time is here with summer sure to follow, so let’s make the most of it.  Go camping.  Hike a mountain.  Swim beneath a waterfall.  Go fishing on a river.  Attend an outdoor concert, even if you don’t know the band.  You might discover a new one you like (that happened to me last weekend; already ordered & received their CD which I am loving).  Go to a winery or a brewery with friends & taste some new drinks.  Go to that Indian buffet you’ve been wanting to try.  Take a walk on the beach at sunset.  Listen to loud music & dance while doing housework; I promise it’s so much more fun that way.  Take risks; just be smart about them.  Above all, have fun with the ones you love.  Spend time together as often as you can.  Say “I love you” and mean it every single time.  When you get to the end of your life, whenever that may be, you’ll be so glad you did.

P.S. Here’s a link to a song by the new (to me) band I discovered last weekend.  Check out We Were Young by Honor By August.    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_2Qq0JpnNpM