upgrade your operating system.

Bethany: So you’re saying that having beliefs is a bad thing?

Rufus: I just think it’s better to have an idea. You can change an idea; changing a belief is trickier. People die for it, people kill for it.

An excerpt from the movie “Dogma”

It was 2006 when I went away to college, specifically one of the oldest Catholic universities in the country. I grew up fairly secular without much of a religious education (except for the yearly Easter church service) and had never read the Bible, so it was a bit of a culture shock to be surrounded by statues of saints, priests, nuns and students who had a religious practice woven into their everyday lives. I went to Catholic mass twice while I was there: once because my roommates invited me one Sunday evening, the other time out of sheer curiosity.

Both times, I was struck by the same odd sight. In each service there was a woman (a different person each time), crying as she received the Eucharist. I found out later that Catholic doctrine states that the communion wafer (Eucharist), during consecration, transforms into the actual flesh of Jesus Christ. So while I sat in those services, with a mixture of curiosity, confusion and boredom, another person was emotionally overwhelmed with the belief that she was coming in actual physical contact with her lord and savior.

Belief is a very powerful force.

Beliefs, religious or otherwise, shape our reality. They shape how we view ourselves, how we think the world works, what we think is right or wrong, what we think is true.

But where do these beliefs come from? How are they formed?

Sometimes they are taught to us explicitly by our parents. (“Listen buddy, if you get good grades, work hard and get a college degree, you will get a good job and make lots of money.”)

We can also learn beliefs in more subtle ways. While no one may have told you directly that the world is a dangerous, violent place, growing up in a high-crime neighborhood or war zone may teach you that “fact”. You may not have heard the words “People are untrustworthy”, but experiencing a significant betrayal or trauma may anchor that belief in your psyche.

The cultures we grow up in and around may both explicitly and implicitly program us with certain beliefs. Many Asian cultures have the implicit belief that the well-being of the family, group or community is more important than the individual, while many Western cultures, particularly America, have the opposite view. Even on a more granular level, I’m sure we’ve all heard statements like “We Italians know how to eat”, or “We’re Irish, we don’t talk about our feelings”.

***

If you live in the United States or keep up with our news, you’ve probably noticed some very contentious debates on heavy issues, including gun control, mass shooters, the rising suicide rate, the opioid crisis, mental illness, healthcare, stagnant wages, unemployment and underemployment… the list goes on.

These are all important issues, greatly impacting the lives of millions of people. And yet, as the debates wage on, it’s clear that many of us can’t move beyond our programming. Most people don’t budge much on the opinions they started with. Why?

A little thing called confirmation bias. Essentially, confirmation bias is the human phenomenon of only seeing and accepting evidence that supports our existing beliefs, while ignoring or rejecting evidence that conflicts with them. It’s a subconscious cherry-picking of information.

***

While I wish more people would question their beliefs and their bias (Lifehack has a great guide to overcoming confirmation bias here), I do understand why we cling to them so strongly, even when there’s conflicting evidence or when those beliefs cause us angst.

Questioning your entire worldview is nothing short of daunting. Those beliefs are the background for every decision we make and for how we interact with others. When our beliefs are questioned, we start to feel naked, unsettled and ungrounded.

These beliefs are essentially the operating system that’s been installed in your brain. When you come across an unfamiliar idea and it feels uncomfortable, that’s probably because your operating system simply doesn’t know how to run that file.

So what would happen if we were able to upgrade that operating system? What if we could explore new ideas without a knee jerk reaction? What if we could analyze new ideas, not based on how easily they fit into our preconceived notions but instead on their merit?

***

Here’s an exercise to start the process:

The next time you’re on social media or watching television and you hear someone spout a belief that upsets or offends you, take a few moments to imagine how that personal developed that belief. Visualize the experiences or life lessons that person may have gone through. You don’t have to change your own viewpoint. Simply imagine the scenarios in their life that may have led up to that belief.

After enough practice with this exercise, you can start to use this same technique on yourself. You will start to connect the dots on how your own beliefs formed, understand their origins, and if need be, start updating them.

Eventually, new ideas, no matter how foreign, can be viewed just a little bit more objectively than before. This, I believe, can pave the way to positive change, not only in ourselves but also in the way we treat each other. With more understanding, more compassion and more empathy.

Most of us are running an outdated operating system. Are you?

-C

what to do when you suddenly run out of fucks to give.

A.k.a. The Tao of Adulting

A.k.a. Adventures in living my best life

A.k.a. Accidentally finding Stoicism

A few years ago, I stumbled upon this hilarious article by Mark Manson called The Subtle Art of Not Giving a Fuck. I chuckled at his flagrant use of profanity and was charmed by his apparent confidence and ability to take charge of his life, decisively focusing his energy on what mattered most to him. I was so struck by it that I actually bookmarked it, coming back to it every 6 months or so. I suppose my subconscious mind knew I needed this wisdom.

As I’ve mentioned before many times on this blog, I’ve always felt that true personal change is incremental, gradual and slow, at best. It takes dedication over long periods of time to make even slight personal improvements.

While I still believe this is true, I also think that sometimes, that hard work, that investment in bettering oneself culminates in a big personal shift.

For me, one of those big, personal shifts happened around the New Year, when one day, I got up, grabbed my bag of fucks, looked in, and suddenly realized that I had none left…

You see, I had simply spent far too many fucks on things that did not matter. I used up way too much energy on stuff that just did not suit me. And, in a panic, I realized my inability to direct my fucks properly meant I was barreling at high speed into a future in which I would be miserable. But, of course, I woke up in time to right the ship.

Manson actually describes this process in his article (emphasis mine):

When we’re young, we have tons of energy. Everything is new and exciting. And everything seems to matter so much. Therefore, we give tons of fucks. We give a fuck about everything and everyone — about what people are saying about us, about whether that cute boy/girl called us back or not, about whether our socks match or not or what color our birthday balloon is.

As we get older, we gain experience and begin to notice that most of these things have little lasting impact on our lives. Those people’s opinions we cared about so much before have long been removed from our lives. We’ve found the love we need and so those embarrassing romantic rejections cease to mean much anymore. We realize how little people pay attention to the superficial details about us and we focus on doing things more for ourselves rather than for others.

Since the day I stopped giving a fuck, I’ve been very selective about how I spend my time, who I spend it with and where I direct my energy. I’ve also been careful about listening to my body and my intuition, resting when I need to rest, exercising when I need to move and vegging when I need to veg. Yes, this is actually a pretty new thing for me.

Taking more control over my life and what I want out of it has been nothing short of empowering, actually. Realizing things like “Who the fuck cares if it’s Saturday night, I’m staying in, crocheting and watching one-star rated rom-coms on Netflix”. Or “I know it’s 6:30 in the morning, but I feel like going to the park and getting some sprints in”, Or “This person is toxic and uncomfortable, time to remove them from my life”. Or “Fuck it, I’m eating kale for lunch everyday because I want to wear my leopard print bikini again this summer”.

Looking back, I realize that my sudden lack of fucks was no accident. Just as I had accidentally found that Mark Manson article and slowly uploaded it to my brain, I have also run into many real life examples of what happens when you don’t make that no-fucks-given transition that Manson talks about. A few of those depressing examples have come in the form of:

-The coworker who sacrificed friendship, healthy family relationships and fulfilling hobbies for a job she hated because it’s the only thing that gave her validation. (She was constantly miserable, bitter and anxious as a result).

-The ex who complained constantly about life but refused to make any attempts at self-improvement because he was afraid of uncertainty (and wanted someone, me, to do the hard work for him)

-The manager who got fired because he couldn’t push his ego aside long enough to follow company rules (and state laws)

All kinds of fucks haphazardly given to the wrong things.

Even though I don’t know what the future will look like now that I have so few fucks to give, I’m still excited to find out.

In the words of Marcus Aurelius, Roman emperor and Stoic philosopher:

It is not death that a man should fear, but he should fear never beginning to live.

Stop giving a fuck, and start living.

-C

P.S. Many thanks to Mark Manson for inspiring positive change in myself and others. Check out all of his awesome content here.

adventures in candle making.

So lately I’ve been getting more in touch with my crafty side. A side I have long been neglecting, even though it’s been crying out to be fed. It all started with me picking up cross stitching again, and buying some very funny and adorable patterns:

And then I decided to take a painting class, something I had wanted to do for a long time, but wouldn’t dare, because my elementary school art teacher told me I was “bad at art”:

And now, I found a new venture to explore: Candle Making.

Yup, I’m that girl now.

Early today, I stopped by my sister’s house. She’s a master crafter herself and just so happened to have some candle scents for me to use in my experiment:

I also said hi to my cat nephew Sven:

After a few quick stops at Goodwill, Joann Fabric’s and Michael’s, I had all the supplies I needed to practice making a few candles of my own.

I decided that I would start this experiment by repurposing some old glassware from Goodwill (only 99 cents per jar!), saving me a few bucks so I could splurge on the soy wax I wanted from Michael’s.

And after some scent experimentation and wax melting, I ended up with some pretty starter candles:

The candle scents from left to right are: Sugar Cookie; Orange Mango Strawberry; Lemongrass Eucalyptus.

This just might be my new favorite hobby 🙂

-C

Last night’s weird dream: ancient tea.

I have a proclivity for very unusual dreams.  Extremely vivid, surreal scenarios, often with multiple complex storylines.

Last night, I woke up abruptly in the middle of the night, unable to go back to sleep after experiencing a dream that was rather odd:

***

I walk into a very plain, white, unadorned kitchen and start pulling various ingredients out of the cabinets.  Before long, the counter is full of various herbs, containers and appliances.

Suddenly, a man, dressed in a long white tunic walks in and asks me “What are you making?”

Even though I had no idea who this man was, I was not disturbed by his presence and responded “Oh, I’m making this ancient tea I keep hearing about”.

“I know how to make that, I’ll show you”, he responds.

The strange man starts grabbing certain ingredients and a white electric kettle from the cabinet, and brews the tea.

After a few moments, he takes a sip.

“Can I try it?”, I ask.

“No, it’s not ready yet”, he replies. He adds a few more ingredients and brews it again.

“Now?”, I ask again.

“No”.

This goes on for several rounds. My impatience grows as he tweaks the tea, brewing it again and again.

Eventually, my frustration boils over.

“I want to try the tea now!”, I yell at the strange man.

“Your hard work and love and care will pay off. But you have to be patient. You have to wait”.

He sips the tea. And I wake up.

-C

dropping baggage & welcoming 2018.

For years, I’ve sworn off the entire idea of New Year’s resolutions.  They often feel so trite, futile even.  Perhaps you’ve witnessed how packed the gym is the first two weeks of the new year, only to eventually return back to normal.  Or maybe you’ve noticed a new musical instrument, leaning inconspicuously in the corner of your friend’s apartment, unused, unlearned, slowly collecting dust.  Another casualty of unfocused, New Year excitement.

The unfortunate, unspoken truth is, if you had to wait until the stroke of midnight to start your goal, you probably didn’t want it.

I know this personally as I have been that New Year’s resolution fanatic, guilty of walking past that pile of brand new unused workout gear day after day, letting perfectly good bundles of kale rot in the refrigerator and…what did I ever do with that mandolin I just knew I was going to master?

***

If you’ve visited my blog in the past, you’ve read about this introspective journey I’ve been on the past few years.  It’s involved a lot of reflecting on past events, some of them exciting, some of them unpleasant.  It’s also involved me taking a hard, uncomfortable look at my habits, thought patterns and emotional reactions.  Purging resentments, validating past hurts and disappointments, but also gradually letting them go.  The whole process has been a little messy, even painful at times.

But ultimately, I feel a better, stronger, more resilient self emerging in the process.

***

This past month, instead of picking goals to start on January 1, I decided that I should start focusing on what I really want out of life.  The experiences, careers, friendships and general energy I want to surround me.  I became devoted to cleansing negativity from my life, but also being grateful for all of the positive things I already have and looking forward to all the exciting things emerging for me in the future.

In essence, I had to drop a lot of old baggage before I even got close to the New Year.

So, dear friends, instead of your New Year’s resolutions, what did you leave behind in 2017?  And what are you looking forward to in 2018?

Now to go look for that damn mandolin…

-C

survivor’s guilt.

Sophomore year of college, I had the pleasure of living with one of the sweetest, brightest people I have ever met.   Christine was a force to be reckoned with.  A phenomenal singer with a bubbling personality and a lust for life.

Christine and I were basically the Odd Couple. I would encourage her to go to class, eat vegetables and study for exams.  She would encourage me to party more, stay out later and enjoy life.  Neither of us took the other’s advice.

Christine ended up dropping out of school, later that year, due to medical issues.  Around that time, we ended up having a falling out – a situation too lengthy to recant here.

And then a few years ago, Christine died of a heroin overdose.  I didn’t know she was using heroin.  I didn’t know she was struggling.  I hadn’t seen her in a long time, so I wasn’t sure what she had been up to.  But for whatever reason, I felt nothing but guilt when I found out.  Somehow, I was responsible.  This voice in the back of my head would say “If you were a better friend, she wouldn’t be dead”.

Life milestones would come and go.  A promotion here.  An apartment there.  A new beau.  A trip to a new city.  And the guilt would set in.  I’m getting to enjoy things she never got to.  “You could have saved her.  You failed”.

It took years for me to finally realize that her death wasn’t my fault.

Thankfully, that survivor’s guilt that has been weighing on my neck like a millstone, has started to fall away.  Instead of guilt, I have decided to live a life of love.  Spreading joy, positivity, baked goods and happiness whenever and wherever I can.  While I hope and pray that my friends know they can come to me anytime, day or night, 24/7 if they need help, I know now that is also their right not to.

The one thing Christine taught me while she was alive was to live in the moment and not dwell on the past.  While this is certainly a struggle for me, I view every day as an opportunity to live a good life, in her memory.

For you, Christine,
-C

resurrection.

This weekend, I have the pleasure of taking a short vacation to our nation’s capital with my family for Easter.  Going to Washington DC for Easter has been a tradition for my family for several years.  When my mother asked me a few weeks back if I would like to come to DC again this year for the holiday, I jumped at the opportunity.

Whatever your personal feelings are on Easter, it’s hard to escape the overt symbolism of the holiday.  Renewal, rebirth and resurrection are woven throughout the Christian Easter story, but I like to think that these themes are also woven throughout our lives as well.

For me, my resurrection came not long ago in an extremely profound way.  Recently, I finally found a doctor who was able to properly diagnose and treat a chronic illness that has been plaguing me for a very long time.  Being able to breathe again (literally but, of course, figuratively as well) has felt nothing short of miraculous.

Exercising is easier.  Meditating is simpler.  Even walking is better.  My insomnia has started slipping away.  My body has been feeling better every day.  This transformation has been so powerful that I cried for three days straight out of sheer gratitude and relief.

Most of the time, change is incremental, at best.  But every once in awhile we are fortunate enough to experience a rebirth so sudden and unexpected that it propels us forward in an extremely powerful and meaningful way.

Yesterday there was darkness.  Today there is light.  Sometimes the path between those two is long and winding and sometimes it happens in the blink of an eye.  How have you been resurrected?

darkness.

As you may have read in yesterday’s guest post, the theme I picked for this weekend is renewal, rebirth and resurrection.

Although I’m not a Christian, I spent a considerable portion of my adult life studying Christian theology, the Bible, comparative religions and Eastern philosophies.  I’m a theology nerd, amongst other things.

It hit me when I woke up this morning that in the Christian liturgical calendar, today is Holy Saturday – the day that Jesus lay in the tomb after the crucifixion.  For Christians across the globe, this is essentially a day of anticipation of the joy of Resurrection Day (Easter).

I find it fitting, in a way, that in this story, there is a period of darkness that comes right before the miracle.  Darkness, not only for Jesus in the tomb, but a period of emotional darkness for all of those who followed him.

It can be so easy, when we look back through the chapters of our lives, to forget the sadness, grief, angst or suffering that came before our biggest moments of joy, growth or healing.

Today, I invite you to reflect on a period of darkness in your life.  Instead of mourning that time, I ask that you think about how that time gave way to something greater and, just for a brief moment, express a little gratitude for that time of sorrow.

The light is coming,
-C

an ode to worrying.

My brain is weird.

At any given moment, even if I’m already performing a task during the day, I’m always thinking ahead to something else.  Usually, this means I have a perpetually running checklist of things that need to be done that day and a strategy to complete them in the most time-effective way possible.  Efficiency is kind of my thing.

On top of the normal checklist, I also have a steady background noise in my head that is dedicated to looking into the near and distant future.  “If I make career move A versus career move B, how will that affect my earning potential in 20 years?”.  “If I start saving now, I can probably take a trip to Japan next year”.  That sort of thing.

As you might imagine, this kind of thinking is a bit of a double-edged sword.

On the one hand, this trait has served me well in certain areas of my life.  Being able to think ahead and predict how a project could get derailed and then be able to come up with a litany of contingency plans to resolve those potential issues has, oddly enough, proven helpful in my career as a project manager.  Additionally, worrying about potential danger has most likely kept me safe in a variety of situations, especially on the days and nights I was by myself, working in New York City.

However, in my younger, more anxious days (mainly high school), this kind of thinking caused a great deal of distress.  Looking back, I realize that it was my mother, the World Champion of Worrying, who set the example for me.  As I got a little older and a little more independent, I started to realize that not everything is a crisis.  Some things simply don’t need or deserve the same expenditure of emotional energy.  Many times it’s necessary to not give even one single fuck about certain things.

As bad as worrying can be, and it can definitely be very, very bad, I’m still thankful for this little defect.  If I wasn’t prone to worrying, I probably would have never discovered meditation, yoga or even the simple joy of walking through the woods to clear my mind.  Essentially, worrying has taught me to how to relax.  And while I’m still not always the best at it (many thanks to my loved ones who remind me to live in the moment), I now see Worrying, not as an enemy, but as a somewhat annoying, lifelong friend.

Chill,
-C

death, regret & lessons from the end.

Just as I started writing today’s blog post my phone started buzzing.  They finally found him, but it was too late.  He had passed away.  This young man, who I did not have the pleasure of knowing very well, was kind of like a distant sibling.  What we shared in common was our love and appreciation for our “second Mom” Tracie, a phenomenal woman who has a wide web of young people she has nurtured and mentored over the years.  We were both proud members of that extended family.

The last time I saw him was several months ago in Philly.  He showed me pictures of his daughter, telling me how much he loved her.  We told stories and shared some laughs.  He introduced me to his beautiful and equally sweet girlfriend.  We all talked about the past, overcoming obstacles and planning for the future.

Originally, this post was going to be a reflection on my time volunteering in hospice. But I think the one, big, life transforming lesson I’ve learned, both from hospice work and from mourning the passing of friends and family members, is the same:

We all have the tendency to spend way too much of our precious time and energy on the wrong shit.

A lot of people ask me what kinds of things the dying talk about as they near the end. God? Heaven? Hell?  In my experience, rarely.

My patients mostly talk about how much they adore their children and grandchildren.  Their pets.  How they love knitting, but can’t do it so much anymore because of arthritis.  The time they accidentally drank moonshine.  Family. Friends. Fun.

But also, lots of regret: the grudges held entirely too long, the friendships that could have been mended, the marriages that could have been saved, the fear that held them back from finding joy.

“I wish I had spent more time with my family.”

“I regret not making up with that friend.”

“I should have told my father I forgave him.  Now it’s too late.”

As an atheist, I don’t know if anything waits for us on the other side of death’s door, but I do know that we have this moment, right now.  Our time on this earth is finite. Sometimes we see the end approaching and sometimes we don’t.  But either way, I hope we can all spend a little more time creating great memories, spending quality time with our family and friends, forgiving trespasses and loving each other fully, without fear.

Love.
-C