Grateful by Christina Knowles

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by jawahunter003

It’s that time of year, hopefully not the only time of year, when we take stock of all the good things in our lives and express our gratitude. Well, this year has been a difficult one, and it would probably be a lot easier to list all of the things that went wrong, but that makes engaging in this type of positive reflection even more important. Realizing how good I really have it is most critical when it seems like everything is going wrong. So here are a few things for which I’m very thankful.

  1. My husband. I am lucky to have married a kind and gentle man, who is genuinely a good and ethical person.Randy and me He’s compassionate and sincere. My husband is a true artist, a musician, who feels deeply, sees deeply, and thinks deeply. He also makes me laugh every day. When I feel lost and alone, he’s there to let me know that he’s always on my side. He’s loyal and understanding, and he never expects me to be anything other than what I am. He doesn’t need to be in charge or have everything his way. He respects my independence with no macho bullshit, and his easy-going personality makes our home a peaceful refuge from the harsh world.
  2. Family. My brothers and sisters are very close.

    We don’t agree on everything, but we always love each other. They are the kind of people you can always count on to drop everything and be there when you need them. My sisters and I get together often for movie nights and scrapbooking days. We are so different from one another, but it never matters when we are laughing and talking, sharing stories from our individual lives.

  3. Health and well-being of those I love.morganfamily I am thankful that my children are healthy and are passionately pursuing things they love. ValerieI’m thankful for the medical science that has given my grandson the opportunity for a vibrant and happy life, and I’m thankful that my other grandson is full of joy and enthusiasm for life.

4. Home. I appreciate my cozy home. ChristmasWith all of its needed repairs and upkeep, my home is a beautiful refuge for me, and I love coming home to it every day. I love spending time with my husband and dog in front of a cozy fire on a cold day and planting flowers in our jungle of a yard in the summer. I love puttering around in my art studio, writing on my computer, or curling up in our family-room-converted-to-library, reading a book. It’s pure peace and relaxation.

5. Friends. I am thankful for my close friends, old and new. FriendsSome I see all the time, and some I see a few times a year, but I love them all. I am grateful that my friends do not engage in typical “friend drama.” They are mature and above that nonsense. Old friendsThey are trustworthy. I can tell my friends anything and everything, and I do. My secrets are safe with them. I am safe with them. I can be myself without any pretense, and I am still loved and accepted. They make me laugh and think. They are silly, bold, caring, intellectual, and fun. I am lucky to have them.

6. Employment. This has been a good year at work, at all of my jobs. English DepartmentTeaching high school is wonderful if you do it right. This year I’ve set boundaries with how much work I will do at home. I work my butt off all day, stay late if necessary, and barely touch it when I go home. My students are sweet, smart, and amazing, and they make it rewarding. I have a great team this year in the English department too. We really enjoy each other, and the wide-range of personalities has made lunch and meetings a lot of fun. My administration is the best I’ve ever had. They respect us and are reasonable, and they’re just good, real people.

Moonlighting at the college, teaching writing has been really fun. I enjoy the diverse interaction, the freedom, and the academic atmosphere. The extra money is good too. Of course, writing is my passion, and I am thankful for this blog, where I am free to express myself. Writing my blog is so fulfilling and freeing. Writing makes me understand myself and the world better. This year I’ve written tons of poetry and am working on a new suspense thriller as well. I have also enjoyed creating the cover for my new book. Signs of Life jpegThis is the first time I have ever taken a design from concept to completion all by myself. It was challenging and fun. I can’t wait to do it again.

7. Dog. I am grateful that I come home each day to a sweet little guy named Chacho.IMG_1456 He fits in with us so well. He’s laid-back and gentle. His personality is quite human. Chacho is sensitive and gets his feelings hurt easily if he is slighted in some way, but he forgives easily as well. He is independent and doesn’t need a lot, but he does need love, some cuddling, yummy food, walks around the neighborhood, and trips to the dog park. Chacho deserves all this and more. He is so easy to take care of—he never chews up our things, he doesn’t have accidents in the house, he makes us laugh and smile, and he loves us.

8. Colorado. GogI am so thankful that I get to live in one of the most beautiful and pristine places in the world. Colorado has so much of what I love—great weather, snow, snow, snow, but it’s hardly ever bitterly cold. We get wonderful fluffy snowstorms, and then the snow melts, and we have mild temperatures again. It never gets too hot in the summer. Colorado has gorgeous mountains and clear, clean air. Colorado Springs is in the foothills of Pikes Peak, and we are surrounded by forests, jutting red rocks, crystal clear lakes, and snow-covered mountains. Garden of the godsThere’s a reason why so many Christmas movies are set in Colorado. We have bike trails, dog parks, river-rafting, skiing, and the cozy little tourist towns everyone loves—the kind that seem like they came right out of a Hallmark movie. We have hippies, hipsters, and cowboys, and we usually get along together. I love my Colorado.

9. Community groups. I am grateful for community groups like the Pikes Peak Atheists and Freethinkers of Colorado Springs. These groups organize charity work, fundraisers, toy and clothing drives, and generally are there to help people who need it in our community without any ulterior motives. They are humanists who desire to create a better world, to increase the well-being of humans (and often animals). They are also a fun and intellectual group. We have lots of get-togethers and social activities as well. They are a wonderful support group for non-believers who live in a very religious city.PPA I am really thankful I found them and that they’ve been so kind to me.

10. Progress. I am thankful that even though the world seems like a crazy and dangerous place oftentimes, we are making progress in so many ways. As a people, we are becoming more open-minded, critically thinking, and accepting of diversity and human rights than ever before. We have made wonderful advances scientifically, morally, and intellectually. Perhaps, this contrast between progressive ideals and religious dogma is one reason why some of these tensions are escalating. Some people don’t want to see progress, but progress will win, and for that, I am thankful.

Human-Rights
accessinfo.org

So, as I suspected, reflecting on the things for which I am grateful has made me realize that things are not so bad. Sure, life is difficult, and bad things happen. Sometimes just getting through the day is hard. The world is filled with tragedy and unexpected hardships. Surviving it takes a lot of energy, but there is a reason we keep at it. There are always things that make it all worthwhile. Things that make it more than bearable. Things that are downright beautiful.—Christina Knowles

All the Heaven and Hell by Christina Knowles

Lightly falling snowflakesFlowers in Hair

The loving eyes of my old dog

The smile of a baby

Red and gold leaves scattered on the ground

Glistening wet petals in the morning sun

This is all the heaven I will ever know

Holding the hand of my mother as she leaves me

Burning tears of loss, the indescribable pain in my chest

Holding my best friend as she takes her last breath

Angry words from a trusted mouth

Grave news from a doctor’s chart

This is all the hell I will ever know

The soft glow of a crackling fire

Holding hands with the best man I’ve ever known

The swell of love his gaze makes me feel

The time spent with my closest friends

Laughing until my stomach hurts

This is all the heaven I will ever know

The anxiety of deadlines

The crushing weight of responsibilities

Debts to pay and artificial worries

The helplessness of age

The loneliness of loss

This is all the hell I will ever know

Pain and depression

Joy and the sweetness of love

Anger and frustration

Comfort and peace

Gratitude for all of this life

This is all the heaven and hell I will ever know—Christina Knowles (2015)

Photo snagged from Pinterest

My Moment of Zen by Christina Knowles

MeditationThose of you who are Jon Stewart fans, like I am, know where this line comes from. At the end of every show, Jon would show a clip of something unbelievable, ridiculous, or ironic that reveals a not-so-surprising truth, at least it shouldn’t be surprising. Well, my personal moment of Zen came a few weeks ago when I had a heart attack at the end of a long day of stress, work, dehydration, and lack of sleep—during the summer break when I should have been having fun and relaxing. It’s ironic because I’m the youngest in my family, the one who eats organic, does yoga, and exercises every day, and the only one who has had a heart attack. It was not-so-surprising because I was a workaholic perfectionist. I say “was” because this epiphany-causing event has changed my focus from work to living my life.

With that said, this is not an instant fix for my workaholism. Like any addiction, working too much and trying to make everything perfect are things that are not easy to give up. Having started the school year, I am bombarded with opportunities and requests to work around the clock that have to be ignored. This is not easy for someone like me. I have a list of things to do that seem urgent and could never be accomplished in the work-day, but I’m trying. I have to constantly put my list out of my mind and do something purposefully peaceful and get to a place where I feel comfortable doing what I want to do with my free at-home time.

According to my list, this weekend, I have to create leveled reading groups for two classes, grade sample writing, create some unit modules for my website, look over and record pre-tests, and fill out some teacher evaluation goals and self-evaluation stuff. All of these things seem urgent. Ideally they would be done by Monday, but I worked very hard all week, and I need to relax and have fun, as prescribed by my doctor—I’m not kidding. Besides that, if I die next week, will I rather have had fun with my husband, or have gotten my “goals” written for the state evaluation, which are not really my goals, but what I think they want to hear anyway? I know what I want to do today and it’s not that.

In a few minutes, I’m going to meet some friends in nature to meditate and drink coffee—not at the same time, of course. Then I’m going to hang out with my husband and go see an art/photography opening by a friend of his. Later, we will do something with our dog. It’s his birthday month, so we’re celebrating our little guy. Maybe I’ll do a little reading later, and if I feel like it, I might do one thing for school—probably create those leveled reading groups. Then I will go back to focusing on my actual life until Monday.

I have to keep reminding myself that work doesn’t own me; it rents me from 7 am to 3 pm and occasional evenings. It’s just what I do when I’m not home, living my real life. I love it, but it is not who I am; it is does not define me. Who I am is here with my friends and family and experiencing the life I want to live. That is my Zen, and I will go on reminding myself of this until it comes naturally. Peace.—Christina Knowles

Photo snagged from gabby.tv

“Lucky” by Christina Knowles

LuckyEverything leads to tragedy

It seems to compound

But in the in-between

I am lucky

Fate smiles smugly

While I frown

But in the darkness, I am found

I am lucky

A little fussy

But I am bound

To this life

I am lucky

Heartfelt and enigmatic

I am rife

With friends all around me

I am lucky

In tenderness abounding

I swim through the sorrow

Willingly pursuing tomorrow

I am lucky

The knell has sounded

To set me free

But I ignore it, naturally

With troubles I am hounded

But I am lucky

In the midst of falling leaves

I am surrounded

An abundance of tears deceives

I’m inclined to opine

But still I’m lucky

Flowers lose their petals

The foundation finally settles

But all around me I am grounded

In love, I’m astounded

And I’m so lucky

There’s a chance to amend

Love enough to spend

And I am lucky

Between the calm and the calamity

Lies the beauty

The artistic and the altruistic

Human duty; I’m in for a pound

Yet finally unbound, I am free

To be fairly optimistic

After all

I am so lucky.

–Christina Knowles (2015)

Photo snagged from newartcolorz.com

“Safe” by Christina Knowles

“Safe”

21134

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.

“Seeds” by Christina Knowles

WatermelonSeeds

“Seeds”

I ate of watermelon sweet.

I barely chewed its pulp as it—

It slid along my throat so slick,

Like water sliding off a rock,

Its smoothness trickled down my neck.

I sucked its juice and tasted life—

A slice of pale red paradise.

Inhaling breaths between large bites,

I choked upon a little seed—

A small black spot—reality.

Christina Knowles (2000)

“Apprentice” by Christina Knowles

“Apprentice”

GoodFon.su
GoodFon.su

Chipped wood

Nicked and dented

Purposely abused to create

What was not earned

Am I a craftsman then?

Or a liar?

Fabricated walls

“Aged” plaster

Crackled paint chips

Shards that flake off into

My shaking hand

Like broken glass

Glass like metal shavings

Their fragmented images

Steal my light

Sending it in a dozen different

Directions

Confusing me

With ambiguous fingers

Pointing first this way

Then that, iridescent swirling hope

A spectrum of half-truths

Promise the possibility

Of a lovely destruction

Even an apprentice can make something

Beautiful

Now and then

–Christina Knowles (2015)

“Autumn” by Christina Knowles

IMG_1303

“Autumn”

Nature’s one demand is change.

Our years like seasons we cannot hold

For Fates align and rearrange.

From green to gold and red, the range

Features a wondrous story told

Of Nature’s one demand of change.

A painted impression from the artistic Mage,

A fractal of the life we hold

While Fates align and rearrange.

Beautiful dying, lovely and strange

The agéd Wisdom, mysteries unfold

For Nature’s one demand is change.

In leafless branches, we seek a sage

To nurture and guide us into our gold

As Fates align and rearrange.

Measuring our days, we alone gauge

Our years like seasons, a sweet story told

Of Nature’s only demand of change

As Fates align and rearrange.—Christina Knowles

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