Sharing Yourself with Others

Yesterday was my favorite holiday, Independence Day. I love being able to spend a day with my friends and family in the sunshine, by the water, enjoying fresh fruit and BBQ food. I also always like the opportunity to drink around them as strange as that might sound. Being a generally reserved person, having a little alcohol at family gatherings gives me the courage to be more affectionate with everyone. The only problem with that is sometimes I’ll make promises that sober me isn’t brave enough to keep.

One of the things I always think about is spending more time with my family. My grandmother is over 90 years old, and although she’s SHOCKINGLY healthy and spry, I know I have limited time with her. I think a lot about all the time I spent with her growing up. There was a point I even considered her more of a mom than my actual mom. She would babysit my sister and I while my mom was at work and for a few hours after school every day. Even as a teenager I would often stop by her house before going home from school once I started driving. She was always there for me. I told her everything. She taught me so much and I cherish every memory I have with her.

I honestly don’t know when I started to drift away. Maybe it was once I started college and I wasn’t as close by anymore. For awhile I really didn’t have the time either, although I certainly still could have called. It just seemed like the crippling anxiety I carried with me all through my youth never applied to her. Then at some point, all of a sudden, it did. I became afraid to go see her, afraid I wouldn’t have anything to talk about, afraid I’d be bothering her. The longer I’ve let this anxious energy remain, the bigger it has become.

Now that I’m older I feel similarly about my Aunt. She is an amazing woman whom I love and admire so much. Before I never thought she really cared to be close with my sister and I, but over the last few years that’s changed. These past two presidential elections have really pushed her and her husband apart. It’s also really hurt her relationship with all of her boat club friends. I get the sense that she feels alone now. I want to reach out more and spend more time with her, but I get so anxious at the idea that I usually avoid the thought all together.

As I was sitting with my feet in the damp grass this morning, setting intentions for my day, a new thought struck me. Whenever I’m considering spending more time with friends or family, my main focus is on convincing myself that even though the thought makes me anxious, I will feel better overall. Embarrassingly, this morning was the first time I really considered the other person involved, other than feeling guilty for not following expected social conventions and possibly letting them down. The idea rang through my head that this time that I want to carve out for my friends and family is a gift to them. It is an act of love and compassion. Giving of myself to bring them happiness.

Of course my self-defeating inner voice immediately tried to tear down that idea. “No one cares whether or not they hear from you or spend time with you. You are insignificant,” it tells me. I am constantly afraid of bothering people with my presence. But once again I am merely focusing on myself and my own ego. The fear of feeling unwanted, facing rejection, or feeling like a burden has kept me from forming deeper bonds with all the people in my life. Deep down I know that isn’t true though. My grandmother would never feel burdened by being with me more often.

Not only that, but it helps to remind myself that even if I were an annoyance, so what? I truly believe that the closer we are able to live to the way our distant ancestors lived, the happier we will be. In the tribal communities that once made up humanity, and even in more recent times in small rural towns, every member of the group had value. I don’t have to be perfect to deserve love and quality time with the ones I love. No one expects me to be perfect, except me. There are plenty of people in the world that are more aggravating and problematic than me that are still loved and embraced by those around them. We are all flawed, imperfect beings, but that doesn’t disqualify us from having meaningful, important connections with one another.

What's the Secret to a Happy Family Gathering? – Conquer the Crave – Plan Z  Diet

Outgrowing Selfishness

I’ve always thought of myself as a very self-centered person. Autism could be a contributing factor to a lot of my more selfish tendencies. It’s not ever been a malicious selfishness. I’m not acting in my own interest at the expense of others. If I ever have, I’ve only unwittingly done so. It’s more like sometimes I forget to consider other people entirely, because I am too busy being consumed by my own inner world. I can still remember when I was very young, noticing that other people would often compliment someone else’s clothing or hair, etc. I remember asking my mom why I never felt the urge to do that, even if I did like something about someone else. I assumed it was only because I was shy and socially anxious. Only after I began forcing myself to compliment people did it become a comfortable, natural habit. I was surprised to discover that it even made me happy.

As I continue to get older, I’ve noticed myself becoming more and more interested in being of use to other people. And the way that thinking of and helping others is its own reward. I once thought selfishness was just a personality trait. I’ve now started to wonder if it’s simply an aspect of youth. I remember hearing about older people focusing their remaining energies on giving back to the community and supporting their family. It seems like in the later stages of life, giving back, sharing what you’ve learned and acquired with others, becomes the most personally fulfilling thing. I always had a hard time imagining myself in this role. Now it doesn’t seem so far-fetched.

I’ve heard the metaphor of life being compared to a wave in the ocean. In the beginning we are one with the sea, then we crest for a time, the illusion of an individual entity, before eventually falling back into the water we came from. The longer I live, the more convinced I become of two things about this life: Everything is a cycle, and everything is one. These are the fundamental truths I keep coming back to when I have my spiritual experiences with LSD. It is comforting and profound. I can see it everywhere I look. It gives me hope that every ending inevitably leads to a new beginning on both a micro and macro scale.

The idea of the fluctuation of selfishness throughout life seems to fall into that framework as well. When we are born, we are totally dependent on others. Although no longer in the womb, we are still very much an extension of our mother, feeding from her very body to survive. Then we slowly but surely begin to gain independence. We revel in this newfound freedom, we test it’s limits, we find our individuality, just like the wave on the ocean. For awhile we are lost in the intoxication of this illusion. The illusion that we are separate.

No matter what, if any, religion or spirituality you subscribe to, getting older tends to remind us that we are all one, with our fellow humans, other species, the earth, everything. We all depend on one another, we all live through and because of one another. We’ve all sprouted from the same source, just as we will all return to it someday. Like waves in the ocean. But just like the ocean, the tide is relentless. There is no ending to the ebb and flow, there is a constant undulating cycle. It is a beautiful thing to be reminded of this. For me especially, it is nice to be reminded of the way things change, the way I change without even realizing it. What may seem terrifying and impossible to accept one day, seems as easy as breathing when the time finally arrives. We don’t need to worry about how we will handle situations in the distant future, because this current version of ourselves won’t be the one dealing with it anyway. We’ve simply got to keep going and trust that when we get there we will be the person we need to be to get through it.

So there is nothing to fear. Not even death. Because no matter how many cycles come to an end, a new one starts simultaneously, spiraling out into infinity. For a time it may be important for us to be selfish, to learn how to best take care of this newfound self. But there is also beauty and comfort in playing with the very idea of “self.” What made me decide to draw the line where I have? Why is this body the only thing I consider me? Maybe I am actually more than this. That boundary seems to be expanding, little by little, every day. And one day this little brief wave that I am will have fully submerged once again.

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Community & Isolation

If this pandemic has taught us anything, it should be that solitary confinement is cruel and unusual punishment. It feels like a huge portion of the human race has been suffering from a less intense version of this type of isolation for over a year now. Even introverts like me have started to feel the effects of spending days upon days alone and cut off from social settings. People’s mental health started to deteriorate after only a few months of lockdown. And that is in our own homes, with access to the internet, television, books, often our pets, roommates, and/or family. Imagine being locked away in just one small room with nothing and no one. With no idea when or if you will ever be allowed to leave or even how much time has passed.

The strange consequences of prolonged separation from others is a humbling testament to how much we really need one another. For me this is quite frustrating and difficult to wrap my head around. How can I simultaneously have social anxiety and need to interact with others regularly to be mentally healthy? Before the lockdowns a year ago, I would have thought I would be my happiest alone in a hut in the woods. But now I see that what we want and what is good for us are often two very different things. I guess we never really stop being children in some ways. Needing someone else to look out for our best interests. I suppose that’s just another benefit of the communal life humans once had that we’ve now strayed from.

Most children would prefer not to go to school, even me, someone who’s always loved learning. I can remember dreading every moment of it. Even signing myself out early a lot of days once I was 18. But looking back, I would love to go to school again. I didn’t realize what a blessing it was to be put in a fishbowl everyday with dozens of other people my age. I didn’t know how difficult life would be once that was no longer a normal part of it. Now I am so grateful for all of those years where I got to spend everyday with my friends, growing and learning and playing together.

Some people are really good at managing themselves. People that create and run their own small businesses or are otherwise self-employed for example. I realized a few years ago that even though I’ve always wanted to break away from normal 9-5 work, there is really no way I would be able to make it on my own without having structure of some kind forced upon me. Given the opportunity, I will always procrastinate and get lazy. It’s quite bizarre given that I’m so rigid about other things in my life.

I’ve always hated the pressure of having someone else to answer to whether it was my parents, my teachers, my peers, or my boss. I thought without this constant stress I would find freedom. However, I’m starting to learn to be grateful for that stress. It seems that without it I fall to ruin. I become utterly lost. Yet even though I’ve realized this strange paradox, it doesn’t make it any easier to help myself.

I often mull over the idea of joining a book club or even starting my own group of some kind. Perhaps a hiking group or a vegan support group. But the eventuality of being held to account by these people, being expected to follow through with plans, etc. is overwhelming. It feels easier and less stressful to just forget about it all together. How frustrating it is to know choosing the path of least resistance is likely not the path to happiness. Even though I don’t necessarily like it, we humans need one another. We need each other for support and love, but also to hold one another accountable so that we may all continue to grow and blossom into the very best versions of ourselves.

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The Heart That Gives, Gathers

I still remember giddily awaiting Christmas morning. Hardly being able to fall asleep. My eyes popping open at 4 in the morning, because that is technically Christmas. My sister and I would go wake my parents up at that ungodly hour. And to their credit, they were always good sports about it. They never got mad at us. Usually they’d actually drag themselves out of bed and let us start opening our presents even though the sun had yet to come up. I can’t say I would have reacted the same.

The strangest part is thinking that all that excitement was to receive gifts. Now that I’m older, I still have a sense of excitement for Christmas day, but the thought of what I’ll return home with is the last thing on my mind. I had heard as a child that it was a greater joy to give gifts to your loved ones than to be gifted things in return. But I had always thought that was just a thing adults said so we didn’t feel bad. I had no idea how true I would one day find that sentiment. Now being excited only to be given gifts is the side of the equation that seems absurd.

As I am about to give the gifts that I spent months gathering, making, and wrapping gingerly, I can’t help but be full of gratitude and love. Christmas is a wonderful reminder that even though it may seem counterintuitive, generosity leads to abundance. We spend so much of our lives saving and hoarding, being fearful that we will not have enough. Paradoxically, this draws that sense of “lacking” into our lives rather than keeping it at bay.

When we give and share what we have with others, the universe brings that same energy of abundance back to us. Christmas is a perfect example of that principle. We spend a lot of time and money before the holidays making sure we have just the right gifts for those we love. But are we not repaid for our money and effort tenfold by the joy we receive upon watching their happy faces light up? By their hugs and kisses? By the chance to share delicious hot food as we gather together in the cold?

The winter months seem like a time to hunker down, spend frugally, stay in, save up to survive. But what a beautiful holiday we have implanted right in the middle! A holiday that encourages us to go out, to spend time with our loved ones, to gorge ourselves on fancy foods, to give elaborate gifts. A reminder that we are all one. A reminder that because of this, our generosity will always find it’s way back around to us in some form or another. So we don’t need to be afraid. Give freely. Help others. Even when you may feel like you don’t have anything to spare. It’s always worth it.

Merry Christmas

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A Covid Christmas Miracle

This morning I woke up to the most wonderful gift I will receive this Christmas, the news that my coworker got her Covid test results back. She was negative. I am so relieved. I couldn’t be more grateful to know that I will be able to have Christmas with my family again this year. I was expecting to spend the holiday alone for the first time. I’m glad I held out hope and still wrapped all my gifts and prepared just in case. Sometimes we all need a reminder not to take these small moments together for granted. I know I am going to have an extra special Christmas this year now. Each second I spend with my family will be saturated with gratitude. I am so ready so soak it all in.

My grandmother was the main reason I was going to stay away if I had been exposed. I would never put her at risk. Yet, at the same time, I was also extra upset about having to stay away this year because of her. She is about to be 90 years old. Although she is shockingly healthy, I don’t know how many more holidays we will have together. I really didn’t want to miss a single one, even if it was to protect her. I am so glad that now I don’t have to. However, it still breaks me heart that I won’t be able to hug her and hold her tight when I see her this Friday.

My grandma understands that we are keeping our distance more than usual because we don’t want her to get sick, but I think it still hurts her. I’m sure it is hard for all elderly people these days. Loved ones want to keep away so they can live longer, but then we also run the risk of missing their final days, months, years on this earth anyway. I don’t know what I would do if my grandmother died even a natural death in these dark times. I might not be able to bear the knowledge that I wasn’t able to hug her, kiss her, hold her hand in her last days. God forbid she be hospitalized. Forced to spend her final moments making the decision of which single family member she would like to have by her bedside.

I don’t like to think about my grandmother passing away. But that grim reality gets closer every year, and eventually I will have to face it. This year has made that harsh realization clearer than ever. But sometimes fear, impermanence, uncertainty, make moments spent in happiness together all the more poignant. I am not going to take this Friday for granted. In the place of hugs, I am going to pour my heart out in warm words. I am going to write my love into each card I give. I am going to vibrate with an energy so strong, so grateful, so loving that it will touch everyone around me even if I can’t touch them myself.

So have yourself a merry little Christmas. I know I will.

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The Most Wonderful Time of the Year

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Even though I am a summer person and generally prefer warm weather and sunshine, there has always been a special place in my heart for the Christmas season. I haven’t been religious since I was in middle school, but I’ve never lost my love for Christmas. It seems like it has lost most of its religious significance in modern times anyway. It is a heck of a lot more focused on consumerism and commercialism. However, for me, it’s always been about coziness, togetherness, and family. There is just something so inexplicably satisfying about being warm and safe and close to the ones you love when it’s so cold and grey and inhospitable outside.

Whereas spring and summer are full of activity and exuberance, the fall and winter months are more suited to the quiet stillness of going within. They are a time to rest and be mindful. A time to pause and reflect on all that we are grateful for. It is a time to hold your loved ones close and give thanks that we have all made it through another long year together.

My family isn’t really very affectionate. We don’t give tons of hugs and kisses. We don’t have many heartfelt conversations. I’ve always been envious of other families in that regard. I am an affectionate person, but I feel my ability to express that has been underdeveloped after living amongst such closed off people my whole life. For me, Christmas is an excuse to really lay my love on thick without feeling awkward about it. It feels like grand emotional displays are more acceptable during this time of the year. It gives me the courage to let myself be truly vulnerable. This holiday makes my heart feel so open.

I have a friend that always writes a lot in every card she gives you. They are always beautifully worded outpourings of genuine love. For years now I’ve made a tradition of this for myself. Every gift I give for Christmas has a least two parts: the physical gift, as well as a poetic verbal summation of my profound love and appreciation. My family has come to expect these tear-jerking messages each year. I always joke about the way people cry whenever they receive a gift from me. I’ve learned that no matter how wonderful your gift is, nothing can compare to putting your love for someone into words.

Even if you think the person already knows how you really feel, don’t hesitate to tell them whenever you find a chance. Kind words can mean so much. I save every heartfelt card I’ve received from my friend over the years. I read them over whenever I stumble across one, and they never fail to cheer me up and calm me down. I treasure them more than any physical gift I’ve received from her.

Writing a personal card for someone can also be a great alternative to buying a gift. Especially with the financial insecurity this year has brought, it’s comforting to know that you always have something you can give: your love. You may be surprised to find this warm gesture is even more significant than an expensive gift would have been.

I hope that you can also use this season to open your heart and share that deep well of love with the people around you. It is a beautiful thing to witness yourself learn to shift your focus from receiving gifts as a child, to giving them as an adult. It’s hard to decide which phase is better. The excitement of waking up to presents under the tree as a child was amazing, but I think I may prefer the soft, deep, reverberating warmth of being able to give to those you love even more.

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Happiness & Relationships

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There is a lot of research that suggests having meaningful relationships with others and frequently interacting with other people is associated with a higher level of happiness and wellbeing. I doubt anyone would be surprised by this data. It seems like common sense. It stands to reason that a social species like human beings would gain comfort and pleasure from our relationships.

However, correlation cannot prove causation. Having more interpersonal relationships could be leading to increased happiness. Or it could be that happy people are more likely to form close bonds and socialize more. It could even be an unmeasured third factor that is contributing to this phenomenon.

Despite this data not necessarily meaning you need these relationships to be happy, it still troubles me. Maybe a lot of my unhappiness is due to my tenuous relationships and social ineptitude. The pandemic has allowed me to notice a drastic difference which I did not expect. I thought I would rather always be home alone than go to work every day, but surprisingly I felt much happier and less anxious on the days I went in to the office. And it did seem like my life was more vibrant and interesting when I had a “friend group” I would hangout with frequently, if not daily.

I genuinely miss being in school. It aided me greatly to be corralled together with my peers on a fixed schedule. I find it quite difficult to maintain close, regular contact with people on my own. Apart from family, there is really only one person left in my life that I would consider a close friend. And we go weeks without even sending texts usually.

I don’t mind being on my own for the most part. I keep myself busy and enjoy many solitary activities. I’ve always been an introvert, and find social gatherings quite draining and stressful. Yet I fear because of all of these factors I will inevitably end up all alone in life.

As I watch my social life dwindling with age, I am scared. But I have no idea how to change. Even when I do make plans to be more social, my anxiety prevents me from following through. I don’t feel like I am necessarily unhappy because I am lonely. But maybe the link is just not apparent. Maybe my mental health would improve if I had more friends. It does stand to reason that a species which evolved to depend on being part of a larger group would suffer some type of mental or physical effects from being alone.

I am the youngest person in my family. My one true friend considers moving out of the area someday. Will I be strong enough to survive on my own? Will I be brave enough to form any new bonds? Ultimately I feel helpless to improve my position. And it makes me uncomfortable knowing I have to depend on other people. I sincerely hope that I am the outlier in the population that can manage to find happiness without the love and support of others. Because I really don’t see myself becoming close with anyone new. I’m lucky I’ve been able to find acceptance from the few people I do have in my life. I can at least be grateful for them right now, and try to let go of the rest.

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