Walk No. 362: The Learning Curve

canstockphoto3085947It was a mild day for February in Minnesota yesterday. The sun was out and the birds were already doing their territorial and mating songs. After skimming the news for the day, I needed a walk. My mood was dark, as it usually is after taking in the shootings, the bloviating politicians, the wars and violations of human rights around the globe. As someone prone to depression, I have to fight the sense of desolation.

An alarm often goes off in my brain. Do something! Do something! I have that mentality of trying to fix, mediate, improve, or intervene, which leaves me a paralyzed, impotent ball of anger in the face of overwhelming and constant bad news. I thought about writing letters to Congress, refusing to buy certain products, running for local office, donating money to this cause or that. Bandages for my ego and drops in a bucket.

I walked further and thought about a paragraph by Rumi, the 13th-century Persian poet. I smiled briefly to myself when I realized I was Rumi-nating. Again.

*****

canstockphoto9679624Today, like every other day, we wake up empty
and frightened.  Don’t open the door to the study
and begin reading.  Take down a musical instrument.
Let the beauty we love be what we do.
There are hundreds of ways to kneel and kiss the ground.

 By Rumi, As translated by John Moyne and Coleman Barks

*****

Let the beauty we love be what we do. I have had that phrase in my head for a week. It breaks down easily for me in a personal context. I love nature, I grow things. I love reading, I write. I love music, I play. I love my family, I parent and nurture. But what does it mean for my role in the world, when suffering is ever-present?

I’ve been thinking about output – what we, as individuals, contribute with our thoughts, words and actions. In The Happiness Trap: How to Stop Struggling and Start Living by Russ Harris, he talks about the nature of our thoughts, many of which are negative, and that the real question we have to ask of them is not, are they true? But, are they helpful?

My brain has been in overdrive this week thinking about how Is it helpful? makes a fantastic barometer for so many things.

canstockphoto10717036I was at my daughter’s viola recital this week. Twenty kids went through short lesson pieces, while parents beamed. My daughter was allowed to do an advanced piece, since she had performance experience. But she faltered and stumbled. Her face turned red, but she kept going. Afterwards she shrugged and said, “Well, you have to fail sometimes.” She wasn’t defeated or being falsely humble. She was okay with her own truth. I was proud of her resiliency.

The girl next to her performed and when she sat down, her mother whispered, “You should have done a better bow to the audience.” She said to my daughter afterwards “Well, you certainly had the longest piece.” My brain was yelling HOW ARE THESE THINGS HELPFUL? The new barometer has yet to be tuned to subtlety.

People talk about being honest. They’re just being honest, to be frank, the truth is, not to be offensive, blah, blah, blah. First of all, any of those phrases tip me off that you’re likely going to insult me, lie your ass off or are about to say something incredibly ignorant. Lately, people have been praising Donald Trump as “telling like it is”, as if he were a wise soothsayer and not a narcissistic horseshit peddler.

canstockphoto6433663Sometimes, out of morbid curiosity, I’ll read online comments on news stories and feel terribly discouraged. This week was different. I read some horrid bigoted and sexist comments and thought “that was NOT helpful”. Admittedly, the voice in my head was sarcastic, but it did something. It neutralized the hate. It just didn’t have the same impact on me.

My brain takes me down a gloomy path, in the hopes of arriving at a useful conclusion. If, at any moment, my life can be cut short, how would I have wanted to spend the moments before? Worrying, fearful, angry, booing some hateful blowfish at a political rally? Writing angry responses to the wingnuts online? Or, would I prefer to focus on that which is helpful, that which is beautiful, that which adds value to the world?

I think about what some of these public figures have put out into the world, compared to 20 kids anxiously screeching away on their stringed instruments. I think about Trump’s opportunistic hatred and the kids’ nervous hope. I’d lay odds on those twenty kids with the potential for making beautiful music over a grown man reaping the temporary rewards of bigotry and ignorance.

As I wade through my brain swamp, I run through the what-ifs, the choices that I can make, the actions I can take, and I feel that surge of anger. But always and inevitably, I end up thinking about love and compassion.

There’s no arguing with those whose minds are closed. There’s no amount of hatred that can solve the problem of hatred. There’s no amount of aggression that will cure others of aggression. There’s no war to end all wars.

It’s a harder path to walk, deliberately choosing compassion over all the other options.

053

My anger arises easily. The desire to strike out, to cut down, to rage against, is so heady, so momentarily fulfilling. But it leaves scars and ashes and the sense that I am a lesser person for it. And I know that is not helpful.

I read the news this morning and sighed. It was time for another walk. A mile sooner than yesterday, I reached the same conclusion – love outranks hate, creating is better than destruction, hope is better than despair. If I’m lucky, tomorrow I’ll figure it out before I reach the end of the driveway.

50 Comments on “Walk No. 362: The Learning Curve

  1. After reading your post I think maybe I should start daily walks and have a few talks with myself, try to find out what is going on in my head. You mentioned a nice day in Minnesota we had the same thing here in South Dakota, a great winter. It could also be a very nice spring. Get all the political crap sifted through and spread it out on some farmer’s field. I guess we will make it through the process one more time. I regret saying, I have finally become complacent also, seems like a hopeless bunch of spoiled brats in the sandbox, name calling, crying, etc.. That is our new political system I am afraid.

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    • Walking is the thing that really clears out the cobwebs for me. And if I’m stuck on writing or angry about something, it loosens things up a bit and gives me a different perspective. I hope it’s a nice spring, but I also hope we get enough precipitation for the garden.

      I like the visual of spreading all the political crap over a field. At least it really would be helpful! I remember having this same doomsday sort of feeling the last election and you’re right, we manage to get through the process every time and the sky doesn’t fall. Although, I think the public discourse has become embarrassing for our country – rank incivility, half-baked ideas loaded with all kinds of -isms and no common sense.

      I might have to go on another walk…

      Liked by 1 person

  2. A beautiful thoughtful piece Michelle. I’m with you on the last paragraph, except I don’t read the news. I love the idea of asking is it helpful. I will use that!
    Alison

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks, Alison. I’m really torn about the news. First, it’s hard to even find good sources because of the poor quality reporting. Secondly, finding actual news instead of infotainment and lastly, being so overwhelmed by the awful things going on in the world.
      I’ve always believed that as a citizen of the world, I should pay attention, but this week, I might just need a break!

      Liked by 3 people

      • Oh yes, take a break. Perhaps you can contribute more to the world by being more at peace and focusing on what’s helpful. I know it’s Pollyanna-ish but imagine how things would change if every person stayed out of everyone else’s business to focus on being peaceful.
        Alison

        Liked by 1 person

        • I figure if I take a day or two off, all I’ll miss is Trump saying that when he becomes president, he’ll send all ugly women to internment camps. What difference can a day make, right?
          I believe strongly that before you can fix the world, you have to clean up your own backyard, so minding my own business for a bit might be a good idea!

          Liked by 1 person

  3. Thank you Michelle for putting this into words. I have the same struggles and have come to the same conclusion. I can be informed, but I also have to stay mentally healthy. I don’t need to know everything Trump says to know who he is. I don’t need to read the comments section to know that there are people endlessly bullying the “other” there. I try to make comments on social media that are helpful and even inject humor into conversations that need a little lightening up. Your post is very thoughtful and very timely. Hope you’re enjoying a walk today!

    Liked by 1 person

    • You make a good point about mental health – I have to remind myself that letting myself become overwhelmed with bad news is useful to no one. Also, important point about knowing who Trump is and what online comments entail – sometimes I wonder why I need those ideas reinforced with more of the same awfulness. There is a bit of outrage addiction in our culture now, I think, and I’m no different. Something to work on!

      Thank you for sharing your thoughts on this – I did enjoy my walk yesterday. Today’s will be a bit more blustery, but more in line with this state’s weather. Happy Leap Day!

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Thank you for being so honest and spot on there with this article! I like to be well informed too, but have to take many days off because of anxiety. And during these times I meditate and pray a lot. There sure isn’t ever going to be a war to end all wars.

    The peaceful revolution is within each and every one of us. We are the ones we’ve been waiting for.

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    • I am trying to add sitting meditation to my routine, for a lot of reasons, but walking also serves as meditation in motion for me. I believe in peaceful revolution more than ever, because the abundance of weaponry and anger has reached outrageous proportions. We have to serve as counterweights.

      Thanks for reading and sharing your perspective!

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  5. I recognise myself here because I get angry a lot at injustices and things I think aren’t fair. This certainly gives me something to think about. Well written!

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    • Thank you. I do think anger can serve a purpose up to a point, but only if it spurs us to reasoned, thoughtful action. For me, when the same anger flares up over and over again, especially over social issues, I know it’s a sign that I’ve haven’t done enough, either to come terms with it or to take action that makes any sort of difference. It’s a challenge to take those knee-jerk emotions and turn them to something positive. I have to keep working at it!

      Liked by 1 person

    • It’s Leap Day – we have an extra day to practice life! Wow. I sound incredibly perky for a Monday. I need to take it down a notch – I’m even irritating myself. Hope you have a good day!

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  6. Watching Chris Rock’s intro at the Oscars is a good example of one of our
    frequent messages of wasteful hate – race.

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    • I generally don’t want watch pop culture stuff, usually coming to it after the fact. I think the conversations about race and gender are critical to our nation’s health, but I don’t look to celebrities to be the reasoned voices of those conversations.

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  7. I’m from the other side of the world…after reading your piece, it made me realize we have the same societal problems and as individuals, for me for that matter, I get frustrated and helpless about how to make right what I see wrong, etc, etc. (sigh). Anyway, I agree..a walk does clear one’s brain & seemingly, things are all right, for the meantime, I guess.

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    • It’s a challenge to decide what we, as individuals, can do to effect change and I remind myself to start small – with me. As another commenter referenced, we can all be a peaceful revolution. Taking action where we’re at – voting in local elections, paying attention to the issues that impact our communities, voicing disagreement when someone says something unhelpful.

      Thanks so much for reading and sharing your perspective.

      Liked by 1 person

  8. I feel really blessed to have partners in this struggle to turn from being overwhelmed by the world. This past weekend I attended a 2-day workshop at my Unitarian church on how we want to shape our social justice program. It was important for me to see the history line these folks put up on the wall–of how our community has moved slowly from talking and individual participation in outside projects to a more organized, thoughtful activism.

    I learned how important relationships are in any SJ design. It’s really hard to go out and “save the world,” but much easier to gather with your friends for a project or work day. Building relationships in the community, with sections of the population that could use support, with other service folks means small efforts and commitment can be sustained over time instead of the usual burn-out and self-righteous attitude.

    Small efforts with friends, fostering the compassion and positivity you noted as being so important, and focus were my take-aways. It was a joyful, exhausting, and sometimes overwhelming weekend, but I feel connected to so many more people who feel the same way I do now. That helps. Especially since we get bombarded with how *awful* people can be. I can take a breath, go for a walk, and remember the laughter and tears of the weekend.

    Liked by 1 person

    • It sounds like you had a wonderful, soulful weekend – and learned so much. After years of obligatory volunteering and subsequent burnout, I’m still trying to figure out how to move forward. I need to learn small steps, instead of what I usually do, which is go all in until I lose my mind.

      I think, too, since awful people tend to have the microphone, it’s a good (but deliberate) exercise to look for positive examples. In one of my parenting classes, we talked about how we shouldn’t just be correcting kids when they did things wrong, but we should also catch them doing things right. My critical brain is trained and drawn to bad examples and think I need to practice catching humans being commendable.

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  9. Boy, you’re on your game, Michelle. I’m with your ideas and appreciating some of your best lines. Loved what your daughter said after stumbling and the Rumi. And “telling it like it is,” absolute crap, as you say. And Trump as “narcissistic horseshit peddler”–homerun. I could go on. Thanks for the great stuff. Peace, John

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    • Thanks, John. I wish what Trump was peddling was as benign as horseshit – the toxicity is hard to avoid. I really haven’t read much Rumi, but I ran across a quote in a book called “How to Be Sick” by Toni Bernhard, a book for the chronically ill and their caregivers. I requested a collection of his poetry from the library, because it seems like it would be a good palliative for the times.

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  10. I love when you said” But always and inevitably, I end up thinking about love and compassion.” This is a great way to think and live if you can. It has made a world of difference in my life. Great writing.

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    • I consider myself a relatively strong critical thinker, but no matter what path my brain took, it always ended up on love and compassion. No matter what happens in the world, that is an amazing choice to make. I still have a great deal of work to do in practice, but that’s what life is, practice, practice, practice. Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

      Liked by 1 person

  11. Such a challenging and lovely sentiment… Let the beauty we love be what we do. Thanks for taking us on a walk with you.

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  12. Walks can be a wonderful thing. I cherish my daily walks with my dog. That is often the time when my brain sifts through ideas, and thoughts and comes up with the greatest resolutions.
    I hear your pain. I feel the same desperation when I listen to the news. Suffering and more suffering, hatred and senseless violence. And what for? It is maddening. This is why, I have decided not to listen to the news anymore. I know I can’t change the big problems in this world, and listening to the news does not help me at all. I might, every now and then, tune in to some stories, or get a summary from my husband. I might also read articles that are less painful, but equally informative. Yes, I am often left without subjects of conversation with certain individuals, but that’s ok. My sanity is more important.
    The quote you wrote in your post is beautiful. Thank you! I have another one I like : ” Be the change you want to see in the world”. I know I can’t change a lot in troubled places in the world, but I can take small steps to make other lones happier and more peaceful. I teach music to young children, and I try to bring a smile on their faces, I do my best to be a good mom, and wife and friend, and maybe, by being a bit of help in my immediate community, that will spread further…. That is all I can do at this point. We cannot change the world, but we can make one person’s day a better one.

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    • You have made a very specific, admirable choice. I was thinking about your comment this morning, asking myself if I would be able to disconnect. I think, as a writer and as the kind of person I am, I need to have a bigger picture, but you make so many good points about focusing on what is in front of us. I’m walking the fine line between staying informed and protecting myself – I’ll just really need to be mindful of that.

      I can’t imagine anything more joyful than teaching music to children. The Gandhi quote you referenced came to mind while I wrote this. There is something that really resonated with the Rumi quote because the actions seemed more specific – taking what you see as beautiful and figuring out how to create it.

      Thanks so much for taking the time to read and share your perspective!

      Liked by 1 person

  13. Thank you Michelle for sharing your thoughts and reflections. I often find my mind in the same traps you speak of here and indeed, have been in some of those lately myself. The Rumi quote you shared resonates. I turn 50 this year, mid-life, and as a result I have been musing over ways that I can make those next 50 years MATTER. I think I will start by letting the beauty I love be what I do… Your writing is lovely!

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    • Thanks for the kind words on the writing.

      They really are traps, aren’t they? I keep wandering into them, but I have to believe awareness helps so that I can eventually learn to avoid them. I think I really started my midlife musing a few years ago. It’s been hard going – trying to steer my ship in a direction more in line with my values and the kind of person I want to be.

      That Rumi line found me at just the right point in time, though. If I have a day when I feel like I’m off-track (and en route to a trap), I think that thought will put me right. Practice, practice, practice…

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  14. Reblogged this on BOOKS, POLITICS, SIMPLICITY and commented:
    This post from The Green Study is a “helpful” meditation for Super Tuesday. Most of the political vitriol that passes for news on “Cable News” channels in election year 2016 is not helpful.

    Thanks to Michellle for a post that will help us keep our sanity for the balance of the election year.

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    • Thanks, John for the re-blog. I’m sure I’ll end up writing more posts like this over the next few months just to retain my sanity. It’s going to be a long year politically!

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  15. Sometimes we just have to turn off the news and walk and talk to the Trees..

    Wonderful post and came viat Johns reblog.
    Sue

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  16. I loved the words by Rumi. “Let the beauty you love be what you do.” Focusing on the positive aspects of life and taking time to clear your thoughts will bring you to a better place. I feel like you at times because there is so much we can do in this world to help others. Sometimes we are paralyzed by everything else going on in our lives.

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    • Sometimes I think the problem is not about focusing on the positive, but even noticing the positive. My critical mind often gets in the way of doing that, which is why I so deliberately have to pay attention to the good. Also, the news is always more focused on the negative, which is why a break is likely a good idea. Thanks for sharing your perspective, Pat.

      Liked by 1 person

  17. I must admit that I’m glad that I am a natural optimist. For me, it’s automatic to see that sliver of good in any and every situation!

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  18. I cannot watch the news every day, I don’t want to get overrun by all that negativity. I couldn’t do anything but take walks to recover 🙂

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  19. Great bit of writing again – thank you. I tried to write about these kind of feelings in my last blog entry but I guess I was way too specific and tried too much to persuade people to try the same thing as I did. I think the way you wrote about it really inspires people!

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