Monday, August 3, 2020

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Oh that tomorrow finds us better than today

While sitting in the newsroom Wednesday, a restless rumble grew in the pit of my stomach and sputtered my knee to a steady bounce.  My mind jumped from one thought to another, making it difficult for me to focus on the task at hand.

My solution: run. I picked up my things, went to the fitness center and ran for 30 minutes. Afterwards, a calm settled over my entire being.

I could feel the warmth spread throughout my muscles. My mind quieted, and when I returned to the newsroom, I was able to focus.

The task on which I needed to focus was to write about New Year’s resolutions.

But really, what is there to say that has not already been said? People re-cap the year, give thanks for the good, pray for a better year to come, make resolutions, and then get back to their everyday business. 

While I may resolve in one instant to exercise as a means to calm my mind, there is no need for me to resolve to exercise for 2019 – that is already a part of who I am and what I do – I am a shadow of myself without physical activity.

Besides, that was last year’s resolution – to treat exercise like a necessity rather than an extracurricular activity, and for a once, I was able to keep that resolution and make it a part of my regular routine.

This year, in thinking about what could possibly be the best and most doable resolution for me, I decided to focus on improving upon a life-altering resolution that Henry Wadsworth Longfellow maps out in his poem “Psalm of Life.”

Wadsworth writes in stanza three of the nine-stanza poem:

Not enjoyment, and not sorrow,

Is our destined end or way;

But to act, that each to-morrow

Find us farther than to-day.

Poets are powerful in that they can say so much in so few lines. This stanza is my New Year’s Resolution and 2019 mantra.

The first two lines of the stanza tell the reader that he or she is not here on this earth to seek experiences of pleasure or pain. Too often, people say, “I just want to be happy,” but happiness, like sadness, is a fleeting emotion. If we take chase, we will forever be in pursuit of them, as they come and go with the wind, varying in strength – sometimes knocking us over, and other times offering a gentle caress. 

Happiness is often defined in those moments when a person feels bubbly enough to overflow with smiles and laughter.

But what if the happiness people seek is not those fleeting moments of joy, rather a state of peace – a calm that exists much like the Fourth Tibetan Dalai Lama describes in the book, “The Art of Happiness.”

He describes this peace like the calm sustained in the deep sea regardless of the turmoil on the waters surface. The waves up top may be tossed violently by the winds, but underneath, all is still.

People have no control over the winds or the ways in which the waves crash, but they do have control of the way they react to the turmoil occurring outside. They can allow themselves to get caught up in the turmoil, or can retreat to the calm until the storm passes.

This retreat is not a running away from what is happening, it is a detachment from turmoil even as it happens in front of them.

I have practiced this calm before and have been accused of not caring, because I did not meet the expected and accepted response to the situation, and that in itself caused problems, but as an independent woman, I have learned that there will always be people who expect from me particular responses that I will not be able to give.

To illustrate this situation, the end of my sophomore year of college, I drove in my mom’s boyfriend’s car to visit my aunt the day before I left for Minnesota to work at Outdoor Adventure Canoe Outfitters for the summer.

My brother sat in the passenger side of the wagon as we traveled on North Meridian St. towards my aunt’s house. Traffic was heavy, and I was driving too close to the Channel 6 news SUV in front of me, and so when that driver slammed on the brakes to avoid rear-ending the car in front of him, I slammed on my breaks and slid into the bumper of Channel 6.

When I got out of the vehicle, I was calm. I understood the implications, was glad no one was hurt, but was worried about what my mother and her boyfriend would say about the buckled hood of the wagon.

My brother, the driver of the other car and his passenger all asked me if I was OK as if I had blood gushing from my forehead, and seemed to expect me to be more upset. Then, I called my mom, and her reaction was so angry and condemning (she did not even ask if I was OK until after she gave me a proper a**-chewing), that my calm demeanor cracked, and a steady stream of tears fell to my now quivering lips.

I was pulled from the calm into the storm. In a sense, I felt as if I was called to duty, and that duty was to react with tearful remorse for my careless  (even if unintentional) actions. Perhaps my brother and the Channel 6 driver expected me to cry, because I am female. My mom expected me to cry, because I wrecked her boyfriend’s car.

Since that incident, I have tried to take control of my reactions, and avoid allowing the expectations of others to determine how I should react in a given situation – within reason.

The politics of human interactions and reactions in various social situations can be crucial. People are very susceptible to their assumptions and expectations, which lead them to judge others when those assumptions and expectations are either met or not met. 

Like wiry strings on a puppet, assumptions and expectations manipulate a person’s emotions and actions, and while one might think the puppet is autonomous, in social settings, he or she is not.

There is a network connection between each of us – invisible wires that work to influence those around us, and all of these strings and wires cross and tangle, making interactions complex and complicated. Cross the wrong wire with the wrong string, and sparks fly.

Trying to find the balance between personal harmony and social harmony is my new year’s resolution.

To achieve this resolution, I already exercise, which is a mean of releasing tension caused by stress. I have been monitoring my diet better, taking in the vitamins and minerals my body needs at my age.

I have practiced some meditation techniques, but this year, I plan to focus more on meditating on how to think about the world and people around me with greater compassion, so that I am better equipped to accept their reactions to me – even when I fail to meet the expectations they have about how I should act or react in a given situation.

My end goal is to achieve what I have always been taught, but have not been good at practicing – to learn how to love my “enemies” or the people who act as antagonists in my life’s story.

By this time next year, I hope to be able to harness my emotions such that I am no longer mentally or outwardly cussing people out when they make me angry. I want the thinking process I make myself go through now to remain or return to calm to be automatic.

The last two lines of the Longfellow’s stanza come into play as my actions each day take me further into the calm than I was the day before. 

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