Rise to the Challenge

I have met tons of people that identify themselves as competitive. I’ve been told that is a natural part of human nature, and I suppose all living things must have a certain competitive drive in order to survive. I, myself, however, have never considered myself competitive. I’ve never been very interested in sports or even playing cards or board games. There is nothing inside of me that drives me to win. Winning a game or a sport means little to nothing to me. Yet losing still makes me feel badly about myself. Therefore there is really no benefit to me participating in competitive activities.

I’ve wondered about this aspect of myself since I became aware of it. I do think a lot of it stems from social anxiety, but there is another aspect I think might be relevant. Growing up as the youngest sibling, you learn pretty fast that the chances of you winning anything or outperforming your older sibling are slim to none. I got used to always losing every single game we would play growing up. One particular incident stands out where I was playing “Mouse Trap” with my sister and grandmother. When I lost I was so distraught and unwilling to surrender my cheese game piece that I cried and shut myself up in my room. From all of these experiences, I think I have internalized the idea that challenge and competition inevitably means failure and disappointment. This has become so ingrained in me that I feel no more likely to win games of chance than I do ones that involve skill.

To this day, I still don’t enjoy playing games at parties (drinking games are a bit more acceptable) and even the video games I play are much more about casual, steady progress and creativity than winning and losing or being challenged. Until recently this was all the further I really thought about this mindset of mine. So I don’t like games very much, that’s no big deal. I dug no deeper into the matter.

The other day, however, I realized just how much this aversion to challenge has skewed my entire worldview. After all, competition and challenge is something that we all encounter each and every day in our careers, in our relationships, and even within ourselves. How you choose to perceive and respond to these challenges has a huge impact on your self-perception and your overall quality of life. Only very recently did it occur to me that not only do I anticipate failure in games, but in the challenges I face in life as well. I’ve come to view any type of challenging situation as inherently negative, foreshadowing only failure and embarrassment, never as an opportunity for self discovery or personal growth.

I think one of the ways I can start to change this mindset, is by allowing myself space to fail. There was a wonderful example of this practice in the yoga class I did yesterday. Vrikshasana or tree pose, as well as all the other balancing poses in yoga, are a great place to start playing with this. Once a balancing posture becomes second nature and relatively easy to hold, it’s time to start pushing the limits of our balancing ability. Often a cue is given to try closing your eyes. If you’ve never tried this, it is exceptionally difficult to maintain your balance with the eyes closed. Normally, I ignore this option. I inevitably fall out of the pose and get upset with myself.

Yesterday the cue was given in a slightly different way though. Because of this, I was able to let go of the expectation or even the goal of maintaining my balance perfectly and staying in the pose for any length of time with my eyes shut. It wasn’t about how long I could manage to stay still, but simply what it would feel like to try. Once I released the pressure of perfecting the pose, I actually was able to do better at this challenge than I ever have been in the past. Not only that, but I didn’t feel any irritation or disappointment when I did fall out of the pose.

Whether you enjoy challenges or not, the fact is that you are going to be faced with them regularly. It’s not an option to avoid all challenge for the rest of you life. Rather than trying to avoid challenges, perhaps we can try to look at them in a different, healthier way. Sometimes it even helps me to imagine what it would feel like to be someone that is competitive or excited by the idea of being challenged. Despite my initial reaction, I do admit that there is a certain pleasure and even peace in being challenged. When I’m doing something new or difficult, I am usually more focused than usual. And the only thing I really have to fear is my own self criticism.

In order to let go of the outcome and my expectations for myself, I find it helpful to start off by viewing failure as a likely and acceptable option. It’s almost more pleasurable if I assume I am going to fail from the beginning. Success or failure was never the point most of the time anyway. The point of life isn’t to do everything perfectly all of the time or even most of the time. Life is about trying new things, being curious, and growing through adversity. Failure is a natural part of these things and what’s most likely holding us back from them. Once we realize that we have the choice to live happily with our mistakes and failures we can finally be free to explore and blossom as we were meant to.

How to do Vrikshasana | The Tree Pose | Learn Yogasanas Online | Yoga and  Kerala

Deceptive Mental States

Every day I wake up I choose love, I choose light, and I try.

The Submarines – You, Me, and the Bourgeoisie

What are we supposed to do when we cannot trust our own minds? This is where I believe faith comes into even an atheist’s life. At least for me, this is where I try to practice faith. You might be asking, well why wouldn’t you trust your own mind in the first place? If you are one of the lucky few who have no mental illness, then you may never encounter this dilemma. However, for someone like me, who suffers from an anxiety disorder, there are many times I’m left unsure of whether something is a genuine concern or if I’m spiraling into delusional, distorted perceptions and over reacting. It can be extremely difficult to tell the difference. Not only that, even if I determine logically that I am being a bit dramatic, it doesn’t make it any easier to calm myself down emotionally or silence my racing thoughts.

This happens to a certain degree every single night. As the day dwindles away, my brain is running low on my natural mood stabilizing hormones and dopamine/serotonin stores. I am always at my lowest and most stressed in the evening hours when I am physically and mentally tired. Even though I am consciously aware of this skewed perception at the end of the day, I never fail to fall pray to the thoughts and worries that arise. I know that no matter how serious my problems appear at night, if I just allow myself to sleep on it, I’ll have a completely different and more balanced opinion and perspective come morning when I feel energized and refreshed again.

It’s important for us to pay attention to our moods and thoughts at different intervals of the day, month, and year. Eventually we may notice a pattern. For instance, as I mentioned, I feel more vulnerable to anxiety in the evenings. I also feel much more susceptible of falling into depression during the winter months. I become more irritable and emotional about a week before my period each month. Once we notice these factors and the way they affect our thought patterns and sensitivity, we can begin to acknowledge when we may not be in a great place to make big decisions or judge a problem or situation accurately. Then we can try to adjust our actions accordingly.

Now, I said try to adjust, because even once we notice and acknowledge these patterns, it’s not as easy as you might think to convince ourselves we’re being irrational in the moment. Last night I felt like the world was falling down around me. I couldn’t stop thinking about financial concerns. I was distraught about my elderly dog’s health. I was ruminating on the way the seemingly minuscule issues of today could potentially snowball into unavoidable catastrophes decades in the future. What if my parents die? How will I afford retirement? What if I develop health issues? Should I leave the job I love for a better paying one? What if that’s a mistake? All of these basically unanswerable questions were swirling around in my head demanding to be answered and planned for accordingly right now. All of these concerns felt terribly urgent despite the fact the day before they weren’t even on my radar.

The deceptive part about anxiety is that it does serve a real, evolutionary purpose. Stress feels urgent and important because in our past as a species, it was. We weren’t made to be able to ignore these mental signals. It wasn’t an option to distract ourselves or even simply sit in our anxious discomfort when it was a life or death situation. Back then, we really did need to act immediately in order to survive. So don’t be too hard on yourself if it seems impossible to talk yourself down from these mental states. Your brain and body aren’t broken. They are simply doing what they were designed to do to protect you. It just doesn’t exactly transfer over well to our modern, often long-term, problems.

This is where faith comes in for me. I don’t exactly know what I am putting my faith in exactly. Maybe I am just having faith in myself. After all, how many millions of times have I felt like I was going to burst into flames if I didn’t solve all of my problems immediately, only to realize it wasn’t that bad the next morning? How many times have I feared I wouldn’t be able to cope with a worst case scenario, only to discover I’m much stronger than I ever believed I could be when I actually have to face one? I’ve made it this far. I have to believe in myself and trust that no matter what happens, I’ll be able to handle it somehow, even if I don’t know the exact details in this moment.

It’s may be hard, but in the moments when we find ourselves most likely overreacting or stuck in a distorted perception of ourselves or the situation at hand, we must practice faith. Just try to notice how your body feels instead of trying to “fix” everything so you feel better. Breathe deeply. Relax your shoulders. Give yourself a massage or activate a few acupressure points. Notice when you get tangled in your thinking mind and gently draw yourself back to the physical sensations in your body. Your brain is most likely telling you: You can’t just breathe. It’s not safe to allow these feelings. We have to do something! Don’t let these worries dissipate. They are too important. Notice whatever inner dialogue that arises to try to convince you of the urgency of the moment. Say to yourself: I know these thoughts feel really big and important right now. But I also know I am not at my best mental state to judge that at the moment. I’ve felt this way many times before. I trust that, just as it was those times, everything is going to be okay. I am okay. I am safe. I have faith in my future self and his/her/their ability to handle each issue as it presents itself. I don’t need to be prepared for every eventuality before it arises.

You’ve got this. I believe in you.

Keep Calm and Take the Anxiety Test! - My Mental Health

Great Expectations

I’ve been reading a lot of Charles Dickens recently. I’ve finished A Tale of Two Cities and Great Expectations. Now I am working my way through Oliver Twist. I have David Copperfield and Hard Times lined up after that. Reading these novels has been one of my favorite parts of the day for months now. After dinner, I have been curling up with a cup of tea, my fur children, and one of these books in my hygeekrog for at least an hour if not more each night.

I think that one of the reasons I find this new ritual so enchanting is the contrast between my warm, cozy, little nook and the lives being lived out on the pages in front of me. Even though they are works of fiction, somehow they make me appreciate my good fortune in life in a way I never really have before. There is a beautiful, simple dignity in the way the characters accept their fates and the circumstances they are placed in, no matter how unjust or painful. It makes me contemplate my self-righteous indignation at even the slightest inconveniences I face from day to day. How might I learn to let go and move with the events happening around me instead of against them? Characters being abruptly put in prison with no warrant or explanation make less of a fuss than I do when I’m cut off in traffic.

There are also other ineffable aspects of these novels that fill me with peace and curiosity. I think one thing is that they shine a light on our shared human experience that spans the length of time. No matter where you find yourself in history or in the world, we all must face quite similar hardships and injustices. Life is not about avoiding these things. It’s about how we face them. Dickens’ books are a reminder of the fortitude and resilience of all those that have come before us and survived and fought to improve society even in our species’ darkest moments.

I think one of the greatest lessons I have taken away from my evening reading is summed up perfectly in the title of one of these books: Great Expectations. While not meant in the way it is in the book, I have realized that I have great expectations. Not for wealth or social status, but for other people. I became rather disgusted and disenchanted with the entire human race quite early in life. I saw the incredible things that human beings are capable of and somehow came to seek out only this from my fellow creatures.

As children, we are raised to see only the best of human ability and achievement. We learn about soldiers sacrificing their lives for the freedom of their country. We hear about geniuses that have devoted their lives to advancing and/or healing society through new technology and medicine. We see the bravery, the resilience, the altruism first and foremost. Characters such as Hitler are painted as strange aberrations, rather than reoccurring figures or the other side of the coin of human nature. Therefore I think I absorbed the impression that human beings should all be more perfect, generous, and intelligent than anyone can truly be in reality.

This skewed perception led me to be let down a lot throughout my life. Ultimately it led to the pendulum swinging the other way entirely. I began to believe that human beings are all selfish, monstrous, and grotesque in our greed and disregard for others. It seems that now I only look for that hideous side of human nature in order to confirm what I now believe about our species. I take for granted the good I see in the world, because that’s just how it should be. Yet I still see every false step we take as a society as egregious and worthy of condemnation.

Charles Dickens’ works are a vacation away from that staunch, black and white thinking of mine. While the horrors of society are upfront and evident, Dickens shows that despite this suffering, this injustice, there is also deep love, selflessness, humor, and honor within us. Human beings are not the best creatures to ever live, nor are we the worst. We simply are. It’s okay to have high hopes for ourselves, those around us, and our society in general, but not to the extent that we lament any and everything that falls short of our great expectations. There is peace and contentment in taking what the world offers to you exactly as it is. Our ideals should be what guide us, not something seen as a guarantee. It’s okay to be proud and overjoyed by the small acts of kindness we encounter, precisely because they are not guaranteed. At the same time we cannot be shocked and disheartened by the opposite either. The complexity and mystery of life and those we share it with is what makes it interesting. It’s what makes life worth living.

Charles Dickens: Scourge Of Capitalists & Social Reformer - HistoryExtra

Anxiety From the Outside

Even though mental illnesses are be discussed more and more openly, and average people have a better understanding of them than they once did, it is still hard to tell if someone without mental illness really “gets” the struggles faced by those who do. I still remember talking to a client of mine and explaining to him the way my anxiety used to make it impossible for me to talk to people even in the most innocuous circumstances. His own brother was the same way and I was explaining to him that it wasn’t just an excuse for being anti-social as he suspected. Even after hearing my story, he seemed skeptical and unable to wrap his mind around what I was telling him.

Since that day, I’ve become more and more concerned with the way others may interpret my behavior. With both my social work career and my yoga teaching, there are expectations that I am unable to meet even after years of practice. My yoga studio constantly urges me to walk around the room more, watch my students more closely, offer adjustments, etc. The child advocacy center where I work, encourages me to stay in the waiting room with the kids and family the entire time that they are hear not just at the beginning and end of their appointment. Neither of these tasks seems too daunting. Even when I contemplate the idea myself, it seems doable.

However, even with the best intentions going in, I can never manage to do as well as I hope. In the moment, my fear takes hold of me. Nothing besides avoiding the situation seems to matter at all to me at that point. I would do anything to just escape, regardless of the consequences. And usually, I give in to that fear and fall into my usual pattern. I’m not sure even the possibility of losing my position all together would be enough to rival the fear of the action itself.

Not only does this constant internal battle make me feel guilty, like I’m not serving my students and clients well enough, it also makes me wonder what my coworkers think about it. I’ve expressed to them that the reason I resist their advice is because of my anxiety. Even so, I don’t know if they are able to fully comprehend what I mean. I am afraid that, like my former client and his brother, they think I am just making excuses to get out of doing my job. To a certain extent, I even feel like it’s an excuse. But it’s not an excuse to avoid working, or because I don’t care, it’s an excuse to avoid paralyzing fear. I would happily do ten times the amount of paperwork if it allowed me to have less interaction with people. It’s not that I’m lazy and don’t want to do work. I’m just afraid. I’m afraid to the extent that sometimes it really does feel like I am unable to do what is expected of me.

Because I have lived with this anxiety my entire life, it makes perfect sense to me when I see someone else avoiding a task that to others seems simple. But I also see the way others judge them for that avoidance. People who have not experienced this irrational anxiety just can’t comprehend how it feels. Which is why I always go out of my way to accommodate people I meet who are clearly socially anxious. For instance, I have a neighbor that never looks at me or waves or says hi even though we pass each other quite regularly. I know that most people would be offended by that and think he is a rude person. But I find him endearing because I know how he feels. Honestly, I wish more people were like him. It’s a huge energetic effort for me to smile and wave and make small talk with neighbors every time I leave my house.

I understand why these behaviors seem odd and uncaring from the outside. I don’t expect people to be able to understand something so illogical if they’ve never experienced it. I just hope that the people in my life understand that, even when it might not look like it, I really am trying my best. Making a phone call or siting with someone for an hour might seem extremely easy to most people, but just know that there are a lot of us that find it comparable to walking a tight rope or holding a python. Imagine if you had to face your greatest fear each and every day. It’s exhausting at best, and traumatizing at worst. So please try to be patient with us. We really are trying.

Fear vs. Phobia: What's the Difference? | The Recovery Village

24/7 Mindfulness

The hardest place to be is right where you are. In the space between the finish and the start.

Half Alive

A few months ago, in an effort to recover from my disordered eating habits, I began practicing mindful eating. Mindful eating, for those who don’t know, is essentially exactly what it sounds like. Rather than watching TV or reading or even talking to your partner, you focus all of your attention solely on the act of eating. I did a pretty good job of doing this for a month or so, but since then I’ve fallen back into my old habits to some extent. I still practice eating my breakfast and lunch mindfully, free from distraction, but I’ve started to only eat half of my dinner in this way. Allowing myself to go back to watching Netflix or something afterward.

Although I am proud of myself for the progress I have been able to maintain, I can’t help but be a bit frustrated I haven’t been able to keep my mindful eating practice going entirely. When I ask myself why that is, the answer I always arrive at is that it’s just too tiring to be mindful for so much of my day. Despite that being how I genuinely feel, it still doesn’t make total sense to me. How is focusing on one thing more tiring than spreading out my attention and multitasking? Shouldn’t that be the other way around?

Any time I try to imagine leading an entirely mindful, present life, this is the obstacle that I envision. It just seems like too much work. But why does it seem like that? Logically I don’t see how there could be that much of a difference between focused attention and scattered attention. Either way I am still awake and conscious and processing my surroundings the entire time. I wonder if there is a difference in the amount of energy we exert between the two or if this is just a false perception I employ to avoid myself.

I find myself giving the excuse, “I just need a break,” when I want to skip out on a mindful dinner. But how is eating and watching Netflix more of a break than just eating? Why does it seem like such an effort to just be still? I’m sure a lot of it has to do with unconscious conditioning, but it feels like there is more to it than that somehow. Where do I go when I am not being mindful? When I’m zoning out? Sometimes it feels as if my consciousness dissipates and I am just floating by on autopilot. And to a certain degree, I enjoy how that feels. It’s nice to not have to focus on anything. Even though I truly believe a more mindful life is inevitably a happier one as well. Why then do my mindless moments hold so much importance for me? Why does it seem like a nightmare to imagine being mindful 24/7?

It makes me wonder what the consciousness of a monk might feel like. Have they reached a state of perpetual mindfulness? Is that even possible? What might that be like? Considering this also brings to mind a quote from Aldous Huxley’s book, The Doors of Perception:

To make biological survival possible, Mind at Large has to be funneled through the reducing valve of the brain and nervous system. What comes out at the other end is a measly trickle of the kind of consciousness which will help us to stay alive on the surface of this particular planet.

The Doors of Perception; Aldous Huxley

If you’re not familiar with this book, in it Huxley is describing his thoughts and experiences while under the influence of psychedelic drugs, particularly Mescaline. From Huxley’s description, this drug allows the doors of our perception to be flung wide open. We are aware of everything all at once. All of the sensory information that the brain would normally filter out is being noticed. And while this is a profoundly beautiful and moving experience according to Huxley, it is also quite overwhelming. That is why he believes our normal conscious mind is filtered through was he has labeled the “reducing valve.”

I don’t know if this is truly relatable to regular, every day consciousness, but that is how mindfulness feels to me sometimes. It has the ability to make even the most mundane, monotonous moments beautiful and profound, yet it can become tiresome and overwhelming trying to remain in this highly focused state for too long.

Then again, perhaps mindfulness is more like a muscle. Maybe the more I practice, the less of an effort it will seem to be. Just like doing a 150lb. deadlift might seem impossible at first, if you keep slowly increasing your maximum weight, you’ll get there eventually. There is still so much that I don’t fully understand about mindfulness and the obstacles standing in the way of it for me. I am hopeful that with further practice and contemplation, I will be able to uncover some of the answers I’m looking for.

What is Mindfulness & What's its Role in the Workplace

Algorithms

Algorithms, particularly social media algorithms, have been on a lot of our minds lately. But what even are they? Well one definition I found says that algorithms are: a process or set of rules to be followed in calculations or other problem-solving operations, especially by a computer. So basically they are like an ever evolving blueprint guiding the computer’s actions. This isn’t much different from the way that our brains work, at least from my limited understanding of both.

I was thinking over how strange and ironic it is that we as a society have been struggling so much with technology and social apps. Even though we don’t want to argue, fight, compare, etc. These apps feed us the type of content that will get us to react in that way. This morning the parallel between that struggle, often leading to mental illness, and the struggle to cope with mental illness itself really became apparent to me.

Sometimes it’s almost as if the universe presents us with clever metaphors to force us to confront the things we try to avoid. Humanity has been running from itself, especially in the last few decades. We’ve submerged ourselves in these digital landscapes as a distraction from our thoughts and worries and fears. The internet, in a way, is the ultimate form of disassociation. Yet, there is still so much we can learn about ourselves through this unlikely medium.

It’s ironic that the very place we’ve gone to escape ourselves has become a mirror of the worst within us. These algorithms online tailor what we see, they filter the world through a lens of violence, outrage, and disgust. As I explained before it’s because we are naturally inclined to react to these things more forcefully than things that inspire joy, happiness, comfort, or love. Even while pointing that out in my post about personal responsibility, it didn’t occur to me just how much these algorithms are actually amplifying the algorithms within our own brains.

This public discussion about social media and Facebook are actually a fascinating parallel to the discussion of neuroplasticity. Unfortunately, no one has the power to change the algorithm in our heads except us, so in this instance, while not our fault, it is up to us to make a change. While that autopilot algorithm does do a lot of the work behind the scenes of our consciousness, we are able to take back the wheel and steer ourselves in a new direction.

Let’s get back to what I mean when I say this is a metaphor though. Think about the internet, for the most part, we all understand that what comes up in our feed every day isn’t all that exists on the web. Yet, somehow the things we take notice of in our everyday lives, start to seem like all there is to notice. We become cynical, or at least I did.

I can still remember arguing with someone when I was in high school. I was insisting that life was mostly negative or neutral events with light sprinkles of happy ones in between. How sad it is to look back at my young self who truly believed such a terrible thing. At the time, that was true though, at least for me. Because that’s what I was looking for, so of course, that’s all I found.

We are always subconsciously looking for evidence to support our beliefs, even when those beliefs aren’t something we are happy about. It starts with a belief, just like our apps start with an interest. Our “feeds” in life then fall into place around that central idea. That isn’t all there is to see, but it is all that we’ll see.

That inner world of ours, our perceptions of life and those around us, seem so real. It’s hard to conceptualize that there may be so much more that we are not aware of, that our view is skewed by the limited scope of what we are taking in. The world around us is continuously colored and altered by our mood, our knowledge base, our preconceptions, our biases, our past experiences, and so much more. These are the “filters” that we use on the universe. But the small amount that we are able to take in, that is not an accurate reflection of existence. Just as our Facebook or Instagram feed is not an accurate representation of the content available online.

So don’t get too trapped in your own perceptions of this life. While we may not be able to make a new account or scrub our hard drive so we can start again from scratch, we can make an effort right now to challenge our preconceived notions. We can practice compiling new evidence to support beliefs that we choose to hold. We can make our mantra each day that the world is good, that there is beauty and happiness all around us. I promise you, no matter how dark the world may seem to you now, practice believing that there is light and you will find it.

AI Algorithm Enhances Brain Stimulation Devices Used for Treatment

On Animal Abuse

I’m currently reading Neither Man Nor Beast by Carol J. Adams, a feminist and animal rights activist. She is best known for her ability to tie significant social justice issues together to show the intersectionality of all who remain oppressed in our society. I have also read one of her earlier, and perhaps more famous books, The Sexual Politics of Meat. Both of these books work to bring the animal and women’s rights movements together to see the similarities between the types of oppression they are fighting.

Among the many new things I’ve learned from reading Adams’ books, I learned the other day that hunters are more likely to be domestic abusers. While, this was no surprise to me, I was surprised that I hadn’t heard about this data before. I was also surprised when, upon telling people this somewhat obvious fact, there was a lot of hesitancy and discomfort in response. People are quick to say: Well, not every hunter hits their spouse and/or children. That’s true, but that wasn’t what I was asserting. The fact remains that it is a risk factor and a red-flag for women to look out for when finding a partner.

This new information and the reactions I got regarding it, led me to think more deeply about the ways in which our society categorizes animal abuse. I can’t think of anyone who would openly claim to support animal abuse, yet the vast majority of human beings take part in it every day. You might find yourself disagreeing at this point, and if so, I’d like to ask you how you define animal abuse. Wikipedia defines animal abuse as: the infliction by omission (neglect) or by commission by humans of suffering or harm upon any non-human animal. The Humane Society’s definition says animal abuse, “encompasses a range of behaviors harmful to animals, from neglect to malicious killing.” It goes on to clarify: Intentional cruelty can run the gamut from knowingly depriving an animal of food, water, shelter, socialization or veterinary care to maliciously torturing, maiming, mutilating or killing an animal.

You’ll notice that these definitions are broad and include the majority of interactions that the human race has with our animal brethren. (I am including the eating of animal flesh as interaction, although most people would not consciously consider eating a hamburger to be interacting with an animal.) Hunting certainly falls into the category of animal abuse by these definitions, does it not? Animal abuse definitions are not offering exceptions based on “intention” or “purpose” of the abuse. You’ll notice that there is no footnote indicating that these things are okay if we consume or display the carcass of the animal afterwards.

It never ceases to amaze me when the internet goes wild about the Yulin Dog Meat Festival, while in the same day, the same people will sit down to several meals of meat. How is a dog different than a pig or a cow? It’s not intelligence. It’s not friendliness. It’s not inherent value as a living being. It’s simply a difference in cultural brainwashing. Realizing this makes the opposition to another culture’s meat eating practices, while excluding our own, problematic if not outright racist.

However, getting back to the issue of animal abuse as a warning sign for violence towards other humans, I’d like to know how psychologists would explain this connection, given our culture’s general acceptance and inclusion of daily practices that cause harm and death to animals. It seems like most people know about the early warning signs of future serial killers, pychopaths, sociopaths, etc. One of the main ones is torturing or killing animals.

If the psychological issues that these warning signs reflect are lack of empathy, violence, aggression, lack of impulse control, and the like, I don’t know how we would be able to make distinctions between these random acts of animal abuse and culturally acceptable forms such as hunting and meat eating. If, on the other hand, the psychological problem that animal abuse in childhood reflects a disregard for socially unacceptable acts, then I can see that distinction making more sense. Although, I don’t believe that is the case.

Whether we realize it or not, I believe there is evidence for negative social outcomes in regard to all forms of animal abuse, even if it is condoned by our society. There is more and more data coming out every day about the detrimental mental health effects of working in a slaughterhouse. Many workers have even developed PTSD from these jobs. Slaughterhouse employees are also, unsurprisingly, more likely to commit acts of domestic violence. One researcher even discovered that towns with slaughterhouses have higher crime rates in general:

Amy Fitzgerald, a criminology professor at the University of Winsor in Canada, has found a strong correlation between the presence of a slaughterhouse and high crime rates in U.S. communities. One might object that a slaughterhouse town’s disproportionate population of poor, working-class males might be the real cause. But Fitzgerald controlled for that possibility by comparing her data to countries with comparable populations employed in factory-like operations. In her study from 2007, the abattoir stood out as the factory most likely to spike crime statistics. Slaughterhouse workers, in essence, were ‘desensitized,’ and their behavior outside of work reflected it.

The Green Star Project

Ultimately, the age old saying, “violence begets violence,” holds true. There is no way to escape this simple fact. Whether you choose to identify it as such, hunting animals, as well as purchasing their bodies from the grocery store, is violence. It will negatively affect you and our society regardless of how hard we try to blind ourselves to that truth. Karma has never appeared to me so clearly as with the results of eating animals. The human races’ mass scale animal abuse has and continues to contribute to all of humanity’s ailments whether they be illness such as cancer, heart disease, and diabetes, global warming, racism, misogyny, domestic violence, or crime overall.

We will never be able to accomplish world peace if we continue to sit down to dinners of corpses each night. Humanity supports itself through suffering, domination, and death. How then can we still wonder why there is so much hatred and violence in the world? It is there because we perpetuate it every day, because we have already closed our hearts to those most vulnerable.

Truth! #govegan #vegansofinstagram #mercyforanimals #loveanimals #repost  @pauline.dagonneau ・・・ For the animals ❤️

Your Worst Enemy

“The worst enemy you can meet will always be yourself; you lie in wait for yourself in caverns and forests.

Lonely one, you are going the way to yourself! And your way goes past yourself, and past your seven devils! You will be a heretic to yourself and witch and soothsayer and fool and doubter and unholy one and villain. You must be ready to burn yourself in your own flame: how could you become new, if you had not first become ashes?”

Friedrich Nietzsche

We have such a unique and complex relationship with ourselves as human beings. We can simultaneously be our biggest advocate and our greatest enemy. The various sides of who we are are somehow able to exist within us at the same time. It is a power play between these contradictory parts of ourselves. Sometimes it may seem like that harsh, hateful bully is the only one left, demeaning us, discouraging us, telling us stories of failure and hardship. But even in our darkest hour, that advocate is still within us somewhere. All we’ve got to do is listen for her voice. We have to fight the narrative being sold to us by our inner enemy.

We have to realize that regardless of which voice is speaking to us, we are neither of these voices. We are the witness, the watcher, the observer of our thoughts. Imagine yourself as the viewer of a TV show, this drama called life. The character called us may only be able to see a limited version of the events taking place in the show. As the viewer, we have the advantage of a wider perspective. We can see that there is a bigger picture that can help us understand and accept whatever the character might be going through, even if it’s unpleasant. We can sometimes get caught up in what we wish would happen or what we hope for the character, but in the end we have to trust the writers and the producers of the show to make it all work out.

We have to step back from our hopes and desires and expectations for ourselves and our own lives in a similar way. We have as little control over what happens to us as we do to what happens to our favorite TV characters. All we can do is watch, and that’s enough. We have to surrender to the universe and trust that things are happening as they should be. It seems like a tough choice to make, but really it’s the only one available. Otherwise we will be grasping and clinging to a mere illusion of control and causing ourselves even more suffering trying to maintain that illusion.

I would perhaps go even farther than Nietzsche does, and say that we are our only real enemy. Think about it. Do you really think anyone else cares as much about our success or demise as we do? Does anyone else even have the ability to make us suffer or fail? Sure those we share this life with have an influence on us. They have an effect on our lives for sure. But at the end of the day, we get to make the final decision. Will these new challenges we find ourselves forever faced with be chisels that chip away at us until there is nothing left? Or will they be the building blocks, the brick and mortar we need to build ourselves up bigger and stronger than ever before? There really is no objective reality. There is only our subjective experience of it.

Nobody can hurt me without my permission.

Gandhi

I’m sure I would have always understood and accepted the first quote by Nietzsche. After all, I have plenty of experience being my own enemy. However, when I first heard this second quote by Gandhi, I didn’t quite know what to make of it. It stayed in my head for a long time though, rolling around, challenging my concept of the world and what it means to be a part of it. It’s really difficult for me to express what exactly helped me to change the scope of my perception on these types of subjects. I vividly remember how I used to take such expressions: Nobody can hurt me without my permission? That’s bullshit! You’re saying not only have I been the victim of something awful and unfair, but also that it’s my fault for the suffering it’s caused me? It didn’t take much for me to feel attacked and misunderstood. I refused to take any of the responsibility for the ways I found myself feeling.

My inner enemy had so thoroughly convinced me that I was nothing more than a victim in this life that no matter what the world offered me, that was going to be my role in the story. So of course when I heard Gandhi’s quote, I played the part of the victim once again. How can you blame me for the awful way I feel? I was looking for someone to blame and nothing more, instead of seeing these words of wisdom from the perspective I do now. Again, I’m not sure how I finally made the shift, but eventually I realized that this quote was extremely empowering. It’s not about blame, it’s about power. Who do you place your power with? Is it the people around you, the random events in your life? Or is that power yours to do with as you see fit?

The enemy within us tries to convince us that we have no power, we are helpless pieces of a fucked up puzzle. The advocate within us understands that we actually have all the power. It doesn’t sell us the delusion that we can control the world around us, but it does show us that we don’t need to. The only power we need is the power to choose for ourselves how we want to interact with and conceptualize the world. That is the greatest power of all, and we all have it. It’s not the toxic kind of power that can be bought and sold and used as a weapon against others. It is a power far more personal and pure, a silent power that no one else can see, but has limitless potential.

Don’t allow that enemy inside your head to convince you to play the victim in your own story. You can be the hero. You can play any part you want to play. This is your story and no one else’s. Even being our own greatest enemy can be positive or negative. How do you want to view it? Woe is me mentality says: I’ll never be able to have success or happiness because I’ll never escape myself, and I’m the one holding me back. That’s the enemy talking. Our advocate, forever full of loving kindness, says: If I’m the only thing standing in my way, then I am completely capable of overcoming that. I am the master of my own destiny.

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Exploring the Mind

Still immersed in How to Change Your Mind by Michael Pollan, I have been unable to prevent the psychedelic perspective from penetrating my every thought. I am desperate to find some free time in which I can start experimenting with my own spiritually centered trips. One of the things I find most interesting about psychedelics is the revelations people often experience while taking them. It’s not as if these insights are new. They are usually a reflection of things that have become platitudes: We are all one, love conquers all, we have the ability to choose our own reality, make our own happiness, etc. This is one of the reasons I find it so difficult to express the psychedelic experience to those who haven’t taken these drugs for themselves. It’s almost too hard to put into words and make sense of in my own head, let alone translate it to others. It’s similar to the way we can pass along knowledge, but not wisdom. There is something ineffable about the experience that solidifies the truth of the realizations that come with it.

Pollan’s book talks a lot about the seemingly limitless potential of these drugs to treat mental illness, comfort the dying, and even improve the quality of life for average, healthy people. What it hasn’t seemed to touch on yet though is the implications these psychedelic experiences have in regard to our minds in general. Sure we are introducing a foreign substance to our brains, but the pathways it activates are already inside of us, just waiting to be utilized. People have already found ways to access these mental pathways through breathwork alone, without the use of any substances. What does all this mean when it comes to our limited perspectives and perception of ourselves, others, and the world around us?

As a child, unburdened by biases or expectations, the world seems like quite a fantastical place. We’re present, we’re in the moment, we’re open to new experiences and ways of thinking. Understandably, that changes as we age. The more time we spend looking at the world through a certain lens, the more it begins to feel like that’s the only lens there is. We forget that we haven’t always thought or felt the way we currently do, and that others don’t think, feel, or react in the same ways that we do. Wouldn’t it be amazing to take a peak into the mind of someone else for just a few moments? Or better yet, to truly know the full capabilities of our own brains?

It’s frustrating and fascinating to realize that no one will ever truly know what it feels like to be anyone else. We take for granted that as human beings we are pretty much the same, but how alike are we really? So much of our experience of life is private and uniquely personal. The way our minds work are too complex for us to fully grasp, despite how far science has come. One of the issues psychedelic researchers have is how to quantify and categorize such personal, subjective experiences into usable data. Science has been relegated to the very limited realm of objective facts and observable behaviors/phenomenon. It seems we haven’t quite figured out a way to explore and understand subjective experiences, despite what a huge impact these things have in the world.

I suppose subjective subjects are better left to philosophers than scientists. However, one thing that is mentioned in Pollan’s book is the suggestible nature of a psychedelic experience. Whatever you are primed to experience is most likely what you will experience during your trip. Just like in a lot of other ways, in this way psychedelics seem like a hyper-intense reflection of reality in general. Our perceptions of everyday life are also highly suggestible, especially in childhood when the rigid patterns in our minds that psychedelics break down, haven’t yet been formed. If you wake up each morning and tell yourself you’re going to have a bad day full of tedious, tiresome activities, you probably will. On the other hand, if you can make yourself believe you’re going to have an amazing day filled with smiles and laughter and new adventures, you probably will! The external circumstances can be exactly the same.

It is impossible to imagine just how many different ways of thinking exist in the world. I believe we are each capable of experiencing all of these perspectives. More than any physical barrier, what holds us back most in life are our own limiting beliefs. Changing them can seem impossible at times. We don’t usually choose to believe what we believe. It’s an amalgamation of so many different factors that manifest as a belief system. Challenging those deep-seated ideas is no small task, nor is there a clear place to start. Part of the issue comes from realizing how much these beliefs limit our ability to even imagine alternative ways of thinking.

Looking at it that way really underscores the importance of finding time for focused creativity as an adult. Creativity isn’t about what you produce. It’s about expanding the limits of our own minds so that we are better able to come up with creative solutions to our problems and allow ourselves access to more options in our inner lives. Creativity is a muscle that is not exercised nearly enough. It is completely undervalued in our schools, offices, and communities. Studies have shown that adults are drastically less creative than children. Longitudinal studies that follow the same participants over decades reveal that despite being very creative at one point, they lose the vast majority of that creativity as they grow older.

If you find yourself feeling stuck, like the world has lost it’s luster, you’re not alone. The panoramic view of existence we all enjoy in childhood becomes narrower each year. For me, it’s extremely comforting and reassuring to remind myself that there is so much I don’t know. There is so much I am incapable of even imagining. So when I begin to apathetically ask myself, “Is this all there is?” I know the answer is a resounding, “No.” There is so much more waiting to be discovered.

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More Than This

Like most people in my area, I was raised Christian, Methodist to be more specific. My family was never super religious or anything, but we did go to church every Sunday when I was little. As soon as I was old enough to question things, I did. When I found that none of the important questions I raised could be answered, I decided to cast aside these religious teachings and become an atheist.

Without really realizing it, I harbored a lot of pain and resentment toward religion after that. I spent a lot of time feeling superior to people that were still religious. I thought they were idiots, brainwashed, or at the very least painfully ignorant. Slowly I began to give up that anger though. While there are plenty of things I disagree with about a lot of religious teachings and organized religions, I don’t feel the need to fight against them or throw them out entirely anymore. I’m content to let others find comfort and meaning in life in whatever way they see fit.

My yoga journey has reawakened my interest in spirituality and the things we still don’t understand about this existence. Recently I’ve been listening to a lot of podcasts addressing these fascinating subjects. I’ve always had a thirst for knowledge and there is simply nothing better than learning something new that completely changes your perspective. I’ve been lucky enough to learn a lot of those kinds of things in the last few days and I’d love to share a few of them with you.

I’ve been thinking a lot about exactly what we are. For most of my life, it seemed obvious. We are these physical bodies. We are matter moving through the world and when we die we’re dead. Our consciousness disappears. These bodies turn back to dust. A few things I’ve heard have led me to challenge that belief though. Did you know that what we consider to be our body is actually made up more of the empty space between/within atoms than the actual atoms? Not only that, when you only consider the cells our bodies are composed of, we are made up practically equally of germ/bacterial cells as we are human cells. How can that be?! It completely changes my conception of what it means to be me.

With those two things in mind, it seems like we should identify more with our consciousness and the energy inside of us than our physical bodies. But what exactly is that energy and where does it come from? I don’t pretend to know. But I have learned that our thoughts, feelings, words, and emotions are not as immaterial as I once thought. I may not have all the answers that I would like to have, and I may not ever have them, but I believe there is much more to existence than can currently be understood or explained by science. I no longer have the arrogance I once did. There is so much I don’t know. There is so much for me to learn and discover. And that’s okay. I am so excited to keep searching.

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