Sonder

Sonder — noun. the realization that each random passerby is living a life as vivid and complex as your own.

The sun was just beginning to set as we walked up to the big double doors of the small venue. March had carried spring in tow, threatening to blossom into an early summer. The soft, warm air was a balm to my soul. The rays of sunlight falling below the skyline did a lot to soothe my seemingly constant inner agitation.

Unlike most buildings that remain ever frigid with artificially cooled air, breaking through the threshold of security exposed a room that was even warmer than the outdoor air. So many bodies packed so tightly together, waiting in eager anticipation of the show that was about to begin any minute, produced a strong human scented heat.

Drinks in hand, we found our place behind the sound booth. I couldn’t help but glance again and again at the beautiful human at my side. What a joy to be here, with him. To see him smile, to hold his hand, as we waited together happily. The first band, one neither of us knew, was just beginning to set up.

As the first chords rang out through the theatre, the loosely packed crowd began to swell and tighten, threatening to suffocate me. I felt the hair on the back of my neck rise as my heart resisted this perceived danger and discomfort. A few deep breaths and it was all okay again. A swirling sentiment of togetherness and companionship swelled within me. These people are all here, filled with hope and happiness and most likely alcohol, just like me, and right now, in this moment, I love them all.

Without the distraction of songs that held personal meaning for me, there was a budding curiosity that took hold. What a beautiful thing to see this small opening band standing in the spot light, living their dream. How lovely it is that I get to be here to see it, to support it. That we are all here, this crowd that is my family for one sensational night. Tears tottered on the edge of my eyelids. Each song felt like a message being sung just to me, just for my partner and I, as we swayed gently together in the darkness.

Somehow I ended up liking the opening bands even more than the headliner. While the main band played, I found myself becoming listless and distracted. How long had we been here? How many more songs would be played? Just as I began to fidget and fret, I shifted my focus back to my new family, this crowd of perfect strangers. I was overcome with that strange love once again as I watched them in rapturous, animated, happiness. What might these songs mean to them? What story brought them to this band? What is the significance of this night in their distant, unknown lives?

I was overcome with the fascinating reality of the many lives that pass by me everyday unnoticed. The feeling of connection and disconnection tangling around me simultaneously. The mystery hidden behind the eyes of my fellow humans. The heart opening experience of reveling in the joy of others we do not, nor will we ever, truly know.

As we filed quickly out of the crowd and stumbled down the packed streets to the car, my heart felt fuller than it had in a long, long time. It held a precious lesson to itself in silence. There is always happiness if you’re willing to look for it. There is no difference between my own happiness and that of another. Sometimes it’s just as enjoyable, perhaps even more so, to share the pleasure of another, especially when we find ourselves struggling. Human connection is a strange, magical thing, and the other party may not even realize it’s happening.

Not Knowing

When I was a younger, even friends wouldn’t hesitate to let me know that I was a “know-it-all.” At the time, although I understood this was an insult, I couldn’t really comprehend why. I interpreted it as jealousy or an envious lashing out against my superior intelligence and knowledge base. (Exactly what a know-it-all would think.) What’s wrong with being smart, I often wondered. It wasn’t until many years later that I realized that “know-it-all” wasn’t a comment on how intelligent I was. It was a comment about my attitude.

Being a know-it-all doesn’t mean you know everything or even that you know more than the average person. It simply means that you think you do. Intelligence is curious, open, and observant. A know-it-all is self-assured, closed, and domineering. An intelligent person knows that there is always more to learn and there are always people that know more about something than we do. A know-it-all, well, thinks they already know it all. They have nothing left to learn. There is no one that knows more than they do.

Even though I still fall back into my know-it-all tendencies quite often, I’m learning more and more about just how much I don’t know every day. One of the more important lessons that my experience with LSD has taught me is that I don’t know everything. Not only that, but there are aspects of life, reality, and the universe that I can’t even hope to conceptualize. There is so much knowledge out there that I couldn’t even absorb it all if I lived a thousand lifetimes. Not only is there mountain upon mountain of empirical data, there is also the unlimited ways we can interpret that data. Despite all I pride myself on knowing, somehow I still learn more all the time. I couldn’t be more humbled by or grateful for that fact.

I absolutely love to learn. It is one of my greatest joys to find and spread new information. After learning about the mycelial networks helping trees to communicate and send nutrients to one another, I’ve been telling anyone that will listen. I firmly believe that anxiety is a byproduct of an intelligent, but under stimulated brain. My brain is constantly devoting all it’s unused energy to make predictions about the future based on what I know. It is a great comfort to me when I realize that these predictions are not very likely to be accurate given the amount of unknown factors at play. Reflecting on this leaves me feeling a lot less urgency around tending to my anxious thoughts.

Growing up a Christian, I remember being so pleased that after I died I would finally be able to talk to God. I couldn’t wait to ask him all the endless questions I had. I couldn’t wait to one day learn everything about the universe, how it began, and why. Now an atheist, I’m pretty upset that isn’t going to happen. Then again, I don’t really know what is going to happen. Perhaps my consciousness will meld back into all of existence and in a way I will have access to all the answers I’ve been seeking. Maybe the not knowing, maybe the mystery is part of the fun.

It’s quite a depressing thought actually, to imagine really knowing all there is to know. What a dull life that would be. Curiosity, mystery, discovery, wonder, these are all parts of life that make it worth living. It is such a joy to know these experiences will always be available to me. There will always be surprises awaiting me, new mysteries to puzzle over, new discoveries to be made, breathtaking moments of wonder and awe.

We are especially fortunate to live in the time that we do now. With the internet, we can easily find out more about anything we’d like to know. At any moment there is the potential to learn something that completely changes the way we see, interact with, or understand the world. Isn’t that an incredible notion? We tend to get weighed down by the monotony of day to day life and lose sight of that fact. It’s helpful to remind ourselves every now and then. I find that the concept of not knowing is enough to spark curiosity, creativity, excitement for what’s to come, as well as gratitude for what is.

As you move through your day today, try to take notice of moments that surprise you. Savor any new knowledge you’re able to gain. Contemplate how “not knowing” plays an important role in your life. Reflect on the times in the past when you learned something that completely changed the way you perceive yourself, others, or the world. Let the mantra for today be, “anything could happen.” Then allow yourself to be curious, excited, and open to whatever does.

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Reframing Our Goals

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I have a lot of big plans to start working on tomorrow. I’m really trying to get myself excited about these changes rather than feel overwhelmed by them. There is a thin line between eagerness and anxiety. It’s important for me to stay focused on the process rather than the end result. The process is where I’m going to be living, after all. I have to keep reminding myself that there really is no pressure. I’m only doing this for myself. I’m free to adjust and readjust as many times as I need to find the framework that best serves me moving forward. The most important part of all of this is making sure I practice loving kindness toward myself along the way.

1. Give Yourself Credit:

One of the ways I’m doing this is by taking the time to reflect on all the progress I’ve already made. I finally stopped smoking cigarettes again a few weeks ago. My inner voice wants to minimize this accomplishment by telling me things like: You shouldn’t have been smoking in the first place. You don’t deserve a pat on the back just because you stopped actively poisoning yourself. But that isn’t fair, and I know it. I deserve to feel proud of myself. It was a really difficult step for me to take. I honestly wasn’t sure if I’d be able to do it. Now not only have I switched back to vaping, but I have absolutely no desire to smoke cigarettes.

In addition to that, I’ve also managed to pull myself out of a serious eating disorder after only a year. I know that might not sound like much of an accomplishment, but just listening to other people discuss struggling with similar issues for over a decade made me really appreciate myself more. I loved myself enough even in that toxic headspace to make steps in the right direction even if it meant gaining all the weight I lost back again. This time my inner voice says: You still have an eating disorder. You’re just eating abnormally instead of not eating, binging, or purging. Now you’re still fucked up and you’re fat. But once again, that’s not a fair assessment. My eating habits may still be far from perfect, but they are definitely better. This isn’t the end of my journey. I’m even ready to start taking the next step forward.

I often find myself falling into the trap of never-ending self-improvement. I am always looking for the next thing I can do to be a better version of myself. The problem is I never take a moment to appreciate the accomplishments and victories I have along the way. I am a strong, resilient person. I’ve done so much more than I ever thought I could. What’s the point of even having these goals if I never take a step back to enjoy my progress and assess how far I’ve come?

2. Get Excited

Part of the struggle of working towards new goals is just that, viewing it as a struggle. This is where the reframing comes in. Somehow even when we are the ones setting the goals, it can feel like something we have to do rather than something we simply want to do. Keep reminding yourself of all the reasons that you want to be working toward your goals. For me, my intention is to start living in a way that is more loving and compassionate toward myself. I want to live in alignment with my ideals and treat my body and mind with the care and respect that they deserve.

Even more than the words themselves, try to get in touch with the feelings behind those words. Logic alone may be enough to help us act, but it’s the emotion that first inspired us to change that is going to keep us energized and excited about the journey. I like to visualize how good I am going to feel once I’m living in a way that is more true to my values. I’m curious to find out how my body will feel, how my mind might change. This is an adventure that I cannot wait to embark on.

3. No Pressure

Often when I set new goals, I get caught up in putting far too much pressure on myself to achieve them. Instead of visualizing how good I’m going to feel or remembering why I started in the first place, I imagine how shitty I’ll feel if I fail. This is where it’s important for me to remember that no one is there to hold me accountable except myself. There is no reason to fear failure unless I give myself a reason to. It doesn’t matter how long it takes or if I ever even get to where I’m trying to be. Would it even be worth it if I got there by being cruel and hard on myself? There is absolutely nothing wrong with getting off track or making mistakes along the way. That’s all part of learning what works best for me. I’ve just got to stay curious. Why didn’t that work? Why might that have worked better? Is there a way I can make this easier or more fun for myself? No matter the end result, I’m guaranteed to learn a lot about myself along the way. And that is its own form of success.

Setting goals for ourselves shouldn’t be this scary, daunting task. It’s fun to try new things. It’s fun to have something to work towards. It’s fun to learn about ourselves, what motivates us, what sets us off track, what makes us happy. Let your goals be a game. The best part is, as long as you’re trying, you can’t lose.

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Amped Up By Good Energy

The other day at work I had the pleasure of meeting a very lovely, interesting, intelligent young girl. As you may already know, I work at a child advocacy center. At centers like ours children come to disclose physical, sexual, or other types of abuse. After their interview, I spend time with the child in the waiting room while my team members talk with the parents. Even though normally this is one of the highlights of my job, I still get very anxious about being left alone with anyone, let alone a child. I consider myself to be a very awkward person and am not very good at making small talk with the teenagers. It’s usually easier for me when it’s a toddler or a child that just wants to play while we wait.

Some days end up being extra special though. There are certain older kids that I have an immediate connection with. We seem to have a lot in common and find a lot of interesting things to talk about. This is always an extremely pleasant experience for me. I am so grateful for the opportunity to meet so many awesome kids and have a positive impact on their lives.

The only problem is I’ve noticed that even excited energy is very similar to being anxious to me. Even though I was really enjoying my conversation with this girl, I still felt somewhat panicked. I felt the urge to run, to escape. I found myself hoping that my coworkers would hurry up so that this girl could go home sooner. I’ve noticed feeling this way when I’m happy and excited many times before, but I have absolutely no idea what I can do about it. I feel compelled to avoid not only negative situations that make me anxious, but positive ones that excite me too much as well.

Even after the family had left, I found myself overwhelmed with excited energy. As a child I used to shake or flap my hands/ arms when I was really happy. When I’m alone, I still can’t resist the urge to flail my hands rapidly at my sides in an attempt to disperse or use up some of this energy that has no where to go. I know this is often something people on the autistic spectrum do, which is one of the many reasons I think I’m autistic. I would love to talk to a specialist or another person on the spectrum to see if they are doing these types of actions for similar reasons. Maybe I’ll look into finding some books about autism from people that live with it themselves. I’m sure there are plenty interesting books like that out there.

Physiologically I think that anxiousness and excitement are pretty similar. This may be the reason that sometimes my mind can struggle to differentiate between the two. Whatever the reason though, I want to find a way to manage this phenomenon. Strangely it doesn’t seem to have the same effect if I am excited about a solitary activity. It is only social excitement that tends me make me feel panicked. Perhaps I am just afraid of embarrassing myself or worried that I’ll somehow mess things up and lose this person’s approval. Maybe it’s just scary to feel seen by someone. Or perhaps it’s that unconscious belief that I am unworthy of positive attention, that by making this person like me I have somehow tricked them into believing I’m someone I’m not, that if I accidentally reveal my true self they will be angry or upset.

I’m probably just thinking too much into things again. In the end, the real problem is not the feeling, it’s my concern and distressed reaction to the feeling. I just need to reassure myself that I am worthy of positive attention and friendship. It is normal for someone to like me and for me to like them. And if for some reason they should change how they feel towards me, well that’s okay too. Maybe my mantra for today will be: It’s okay to feel excited.

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