“Safe” by Christina Knowles

“Safe”

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When I stare point-blank

Into all that is not there

And realize this sham

For what it is, the mist

Dries up, the fog dissipates like on the lenses of glasses

Unexpectedly, everything is clear.

What, then, do I attribute

This unrelenting life?

How does one risk all

For one last roll of the dice

When the odds are always against?

Easy, easier still with nothing

Nothing left to grasp

Holding loosely, how can I not fall?

I see me slipping through cracks

I pretended not to see

Too dangerous, precarious at best

So, I am frozen to this unlikely spot

Reduced and fading as a dream

Uncharacteristically still

Furiously safe

Counting out my days like pennies in a jar

Abundant and worthless

Cruel irony that I know how to live

And yet

Refuse

—Christina Knowles (2015)

Photo snagged from odinist.org

How to Be Happy, Part 2 by Christina Knowles

HappyEveryone wants to be happy, right? Well, at least most of us do. A few months ago, I published a blog called, “How to Be Happy,” which has been something I’ve really been considering lately. When I first decided to write a blog about being happy, I just went with my own life experiences and gut feelings, but recently I’ve been reading books, articles, research studies, and watching lots of documentaries on the subject, and I’ve learned about some things that make a lot of sense.

In my last article, I mentioned things like being part of a community, being grateful, not getting angry over insignificant things, doing meaningful work, being humble, laughing, being honest and thoughtful, enjoying time alone, eating right, spending time in nature, enjoying the arts, giving to charity, loving animals, and cultivating relationships. After studying the subject in more depth, I found that many of these things I noticed that made me happy were found to be true in cultures around the world, but there were also some things I didn’t mention that I think are quite profound. For one thing, things like our job, income, and life situations have little to do with how happy we are. As long as we have enough to eat, a warm shelter in which to live, and have moderate security, external sources have little lasting effect on happiness. But there are some things that we can do, in addition to what I wrote in my last article, that can have a great impact on our happiness. Here is what I found:

Do something different—Studies show that people, even the ones who think they like routine (like me), benefit from changing things up and doing something completely outside what they normally do (Happy). Novelty and experiences make us happy, and are often the source of our best memories. I really do need to work on this one.

Help people—In my last blog on this subject, I mentioned giving to charity, which does make you happy, but now I am talking about doing something more tangible. Instead of merely giving money, which is helpful, physically do something to help someone. I think it makes a person even more happy because giving money is too easy, but getting your hands dirty feels like you did something bigger, something personal. Helping people always makes you feel good, but only if you don’t expect anything in return. Expectations lead to disappointment and bitterness. But knowing how you made someone feel because you were willing to give up actual time to help him always leads to happiness.

Do things that create flow—Flow is that elated mental state caused by letting go of the mind and just experiencing an almost unconscious state of action that seems effortless (Happy). It’s that feeling of being in “the zone.” Runners experience this as “runner’s high” when they reach a point where they feel they can’t go on, and then endorphins kick in, and they feel like they could go on forever. I’ve experienced runner’s high and a similar feeling while figure skating. I also felt this while writing my novel. After hours of writing, it seemed like the book began writing itself. It was effortless. I’ve heard chefs on the line experience this flow. Anything that you enjoy and do for an extended period of uninterrupted time can become like a zero-point focus, totally absorbing, and all worries and conscious thoughts seem to let go, and you become completely at peace. Apparently, many people achieve this through meditation, but I’ve never been able to properly meditate. Maybe someday.

Exercise—Exercising releases endorphins, making us healthier and happier over all. Exercise often leads to experiencing flow. It makes us healthier, which also adds to contentment, and it can be fun—at least, I’m trying to convince myself.

Sleep—Everyone knows that lack of sleep makes you irritable and unhealthy, but getting enough rest makes you mentally healthier. Some psychologists believe that dreaming is necessary to sanity, but it is commonly known that a lack of sleep can cause depression, weight gain, emotional instability, and an inability to think clearly. Having enough sleep is important to maintain health and happiness. I could definitely use more sleep.

Don’t work too much–This is the hardest thing for most of us, I think. I know I work almost all the time–days, nights, weekends. There have been numerous studies that show countries whose people work 30 hours or less per week, have the most happy citizens, or Gross National Happiness. According to the latest studies, Japan is now the least happiest country due to overwork. They are literally working themselves to death (Happy). I’m sure Americans are not far behind. If you think about it, this one issue can affect all the rest. If we are busy working, trying to pay to keep up a lifestyle that will never make us happy, then we don’t have time for community, volunteering, exercise, sleep, relationships, etc. We won’t have time to do the things that will actually make us happy. But we have to work 40 hours just to survive. For many of us, our jobs require unpaid hours at home just to keep up. It’s a conundrum.

Realize that everything and everyone is connected—Whether we believe we are connected transcendentally, spiritually, or just through energy and commonality as Einstein realized, we affect each other and everything around us (I Am). When we war with each other, hate, steal, treat animals with cruelty, destroy our environment, we are doing this to ourselves. The same is true when we do good. If we realize this connection, we are less likely to harm each other. This makes everyone happier.

Don’t believe in artificial constructs—like the economy, success, and competition. I mean really, what is the “economy?” It’s something we created that seems to enslave most people and elevates a few. Money, the stock market–it only exists because we made it important for survival. It is completely artificial in itself. Success is defined by marketing companies, television and movies, corporations, and school boards. And competition? Isn’t it natural? Doesn’t it provide motivation? Make us feel happy when we win? Not really. Don’t buy into the idea that these constructs are natural and good, and that these are the things we should be most concerned with. People who do, often live with regret and waste most of their lives. Sure, we have to live in the world in which we were born, we have to survive in this system, but we don’t have to buy into the idea that these are the primary areas in which to strive. These things never lead to happiness.

Don’t compete—Human beings are always better off sharing, cooperating, and quite often, compromising. It makes us happier, so why are we so competitive? Our personal selfishness is always reinforced in our culture, as is standing out, being number one, and crushing the competition. But competition leads to stress and disappointment most of the time. It always leaves someone feeling bad.

But standing out—or better put, feeling special, is usually pleasant. Well, the best way to feel special is to be loved, and competition is not good for loving relationships. According to Thom Hartmann, author of The Last Hours of Ancient Sunlight, in Aboriginal and indigenous cultures, cooperation is given a much higher value than competition and “competition beyond certain boundaries is considered mental illness” (I Am). He studies cultures and animals to determine what is natural to us and what is a societal construct. He asks if democracies or hierarchies are more natural. He found that not only do animals rely on cooperation to survive, nature never takes more than it needs, or it dies off, as Darwin also realized. I think there is certainly a lesson for us in this. Even Darwin talked more about love and cooperation among mammals than “survival of the fittest.” Often the fittest is the one who will cooperate. Darwin also said that sympathy is one of the strongest impulses of humans (I Am).

Be empathetic and compassionate—We all share the ability for empathy. When we witness heroism, something touching, or empathize with someone going through something particularly emotional, we experience “elation” (I Am). We recognize this feeling of innate compassion for fellow beings as love and as good. This feeling makes us happy even while at the same time, we may be sad. This altruistic impulse is natural and inborn in every human, and the evidence overwhelmingly shows this tendency in other mammals as well within their own social groups, and sometimes even outside it. I prefer this “human nature” to that of the ruthless competitive “nature” that began as a flaw in childhood and was reinforced by our society. Compassion even makes us healthier, while competitiveness makes us sicker in the form of stress-related illness.

Think and be positive, and act positively—I’ve always scoffed at “positive thinkers.” I’ve never believed that we could change physical matter merely by thinking it into existence; however, more and more scientists are exploring this as a potentiality. I’ll wait for the evidence, but even if positive thinking cannot alter a physical situation, it certainly has an effect on how we perceive it—whether we take it as good or bad, and of course, our emotions in dealing with it. Acting positively will affect how others act toward us, which can positively alter our circumstances as well.

Finally, live in a way that causes the least harm to anyone or anything—If, every day, in every interaction, we consider what harm we may cause and choose the least harmful, the whole world would be a better place. We cannot avoid harm—just by existing, we cause harm to our environment. We eat plants and some of us eat animals, we live in houses, we drive cars, and produce waste. We get careless, and we say hurtful things or treat others with unkindness. However, we can choose the least harmful in every interaction with our world. We can plant gardens and use natural ways to keep pests away, we can refuse to consume meat that was raised inhumanely, we can use environmentally friendly materials and not take more than we need, we can conserve, and not waste. We can be responsible and kind. If we lived like this, how could we not be happy?Purpose

I’ve heard that our purpose, if we have one, on this planet is not to “be happy” and maybe it’s not, but it seems that we are driven to pursue it. What if being responsible, kind, and loving human beings was our purpose, and precisely because it is our purpose, it also makes us happy? Not the fleeting excitement of a new toy-kind of happiness, but joy, the deep, soul-contentment of being who we should be, who we are capable of becoming. —Christina Knowles

Sources

  • Happy. Wadi Rum Films, 2012. Film.
  • Happy Photo. yhponline.com. Web.15 May 2015.
  • Purpose Photo. Hippie Peace Freaks. Facebook. Web.15 May 2015.
  • I Am. Tom Shadyac. Flying Eye Productions, Homemade Canvas Production, and Shady Acres Films, 2010. Film.

Quiet Desperation–Okay, Maybe Not So Quiet by Christina Knowles

I’ve watched a lot of movies and read a lot of stories about people who have had a great awakening or an epiphany and completely rebooted their lives after finding out they have a terminal illness or after almost dying in an accident. I seriously want a reboot. Do I have to get sick or get in a major accident to do it? I hope not.

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If I found out I had a terminal illness and was told I had six months, or even a year to live, I would change my life immediately. So, why don’t I do it now? Why not live the life I want while I am still healthy and able to enjoy it? It seems I am in the majority with this one. The wisdom of Thoreau comes to mind. What’s the famous quote from Walden? “Most men lead lives of quiet desperation and go to the grave with the song still in them.”

I don’t think I would go that far. In fact, for the most part I love my life. I think, herein, lies the actual problem. I should clarify–I love my home life. I want more time being with the people I love and doing the things that matter. You see, like many people, I am sick of my job. It is slowly, maybe quickly, now that I think about it, sucking the life out of me. It is overwhelmingly stressful. I am not exaggerating when I say that I think it is literally killing me. Isn’t that kind of like having a terminal illness?

That is a bit of an exaggeration. I don’t feel ill, and I am not in any physical pain, unless you count the anxiety attacks that keep me awake at night. I don’t have the emotional trauma of knowing how little time I have left. But even though I don’t have a doctor giving me a time frame, I could die tomorrow or next week. With my luck, it would be on a Friday right after work.

But the truth is that this slow death is not traumatic enough for me to take a risk. Why don’t I have the guts to live the life I want to live? Am I enslaved by my own comfort? Like many Americans, I work to pay for things to make me happy because my work makes me unhappy. It’s a trap. I have thousands of dollars of student loans to get an education, so I can pay back my student loans. Sometimes I wish I never had a college education and a career. Yes, I know. There are homeless and starving people who would love to trade places with me. Maybe that’s what I’m afraid of–I know my life could be so much worse, but is that any way to live? Afraid that things could be worse? Am I afraid to give up the material luxuries to which I’ve become accustomed to the point that I would kill myself working to keep them? How important are they that now my daydreams consist of working in a little flower shop and going home carefree to a tiny two-room house, riding my bike because I can’t afford a car that is likely to break down at any moment. And I will sleep well in my tiny house, nothing to panic about. Like Thoreau, I want to “live deliberately . . .and not, when I [come] to die, discover that I had not lived . . . I [want] to live deep and suck out all the marrow of life.”

But I am rudely awakened from this fantasy by the thought of health insurance and retirement accounts and veterinary bills. There is no such thing as carefree. Were we even meant for that kind of life? Isn’t it conflict and struggle that make us thrive? Or at the very least give us the contrasts that make us appreciate the good times? I mean, would I even love being at home so much if I hadn’t just left work? I don’t know, but I would like to try. It’s not like I want to quit working and striving. I just want something that doesn’t feel like it’s hurtling me at full-speed toward the grave.

So I again turn to Thoreau for advice: “I learned this, at least, by my experiment: that if one advances confidently in the direction of his dreams, and endeavors to live the life which he has imagined, he will meet with a success unexpected in common hours.” But I have never been good at taking advice.I find that I am not really a risk-taker when it comes down to it. Although I have intermittent lapses, I am practical and responsible. I also fear the unknown. Even if what I have seems intolerable at times, I suspect that the alternative is more intolerable. Maybe this is just a mid-life crisis, but if it is, it’s a little late. I see the hourglass emptying, and I know if I’m going to change, it has to be now. But I don’t have the courage or faith or maybe enough desperation, so I guess I have no choice but to go to the grave with the song still in me.–Christina Knowles

All quotes from Henry David Thoreau’s “Walden: Or Life in the Woods”

Photo of Retro Bicycle in Front of Cafe – Fine Art Photo Entitled Quaint – 8. Photo of Retro Bicycle in Front of Cafe – Fine Art Photo Entitled Quaint www.etsy.com

Home, Sweet Home, or The Most Pathetic Bucket List Ever by Christina Knowles

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 I am a homebody, not a recluse by any means. I would just rather be home than anywhere else. Home is my sanctuary. All day at work, I can’t wait to get back home, and when I do, I am not disappointed.

Home is where my dog lives, and although he goes places sometimes, he never goes without me. His name is Chacho, and he greets me with tail wagging, and then makes me play chase with him and give him a treat before he will go outside to take of care of business.

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Home is where all the things I love to do are located in one convenient place. I have piles of books to read, a computer to write down my thoughts, delicious food to cook, canvases to paint, photos to scrapbook, movies to watch, gardens of flowers to enjoy, and music to hear. I could do some of these things other places, but it just wouldn’t be the same. My husband gets slightly annoyed with me on vacations because I usually start talking about going home on the second day. It’s not that I don’t like hotels and new locations. But I’d rather be home, surrounded by things I love to do. Inevitably, on vacation, I want to read something I don’t have, use something I didn’t bring, or listen to music I left at home. And don’t even get me started on the bed. I need my own pillow and bed to sleep well. But mainly it’s that feeling I get at home, like it’s where I belong, the only place where I am perfectly comfortable and content.

 Most importantly, home is where I get to spend time with my husband, Randy, without anyone else around. We work opposite hours, so we both spend a lot of time at home alone (well, Chacho is there), which makes the time we get together that much more precious. Being with Randy is like being home. I can be myself completely, and I have everything I need. As long we’re at home, that is.

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Maybe it’s because there is so much noise and conflict out there. My home is quiet, peaceful. Oh, sometimes we play the music pretty loud, but what I mean is at my house no one ever yells, no one says mean things, no one (hardly) ever criticizes or complains. I’ve gotten so used to this that I don’t even like to hear a couple on a TV sitcom arguing. Why is that considered normal? I hope most couples don’t really talk to each other that way.

Besides going to work, I go out a few times a week. I meet friends at a restaurant, go to a book club meeting, or attend a lecture. My husband and I go out to dinner and a movie sometimes. We go to an occasional play or a concert. I really am not agoraphobic or anything. It’s just that no matter how much fun we have, the best part is always coming home.IMG_0184

I have friends and family that travel all the time and love it, always on some adventure. It sounds exciting, like they’re really living, experiencing life. But I have come to accept that that just isn’t me. Once I made a bucket list and put the usual things on it–see the Greek Ruins, the Parthenon, the Louvre, Venice, Stonehenge, Michelangelo’s paintings on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, and I do want to see all these things, but when I ask myself, What would I do if I found out I had six months to live and money was no object? I wouldn’t want to travel, at least not farther than my friends and family’s homes. I would invite all my friends and family over to my house and spend time with them.  I would have long conversations with them all. I would quit my job and spend hours talking, reading, studying, writing, and thinking. I’m sure it sounds pretty pathetic for a bucket list, but on the other hand, I am pretty lucky that I already have everything I really want waiting for me at home.–Christina Knowles

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