Wednesday, December 17, 2014

One Blank Page

One of the most influential professors in my life once challenged me (and the rest of the sociological discipline) to do a pretty interesting thought experiment: if you had one blank sheet of paper (or even 10 pages) to write down what you thought was the most important thing that people should either consider or know, what would you write? What should the world, your friends/family, and your posterity understand about the way the world works? He then wished that every researcher, student, professor, etc. would incorporate this into their studies and their work. (Why wouldn't you?) So, I decided that every year I would write my one blank page. And here is the first one. (PS - this is in no way going to be well thought out or well researched...just some thoughts on what is important in life according to me.) I'd be interested to see what others think about what I say as well as see others writing their "one blank page".

My first "One Blank Page":
            Over the course of my undergraduate studies, I was impressed by a particular course/professor studying the sociology of “suffering” and human relationality building off of the works of Weber, Nietzsche, Marion, Levinas, and Slife) . From this course and the many courses I took from Dr. Knapp, I’ve come to think about the human experience that I think the world has lost in modernity.  So, one thing out of ALL the things that I want to write about is our responsibility to others.
            On a personal level, I think it’s imperative that we consider how our actions affect others and at least acknowledge that decisions that may seem personal and individual are perhaps not.  While you get to choose (and no one can really make you choose otherwise), that does not constrict the range of affects to only you. You can choose where to go to college, yes. But what of friends/family you will leave behind and (on the other hand) end up meeting. You can choose who, when, where to marry: but what of the family and friends who like/dislike the boy/girl, have work when you get married, or can’t go to Niagara Falls to watch it happen? To have kids can be quite a personal decision that few can stop. However, you are intimately influencing the child that you will create, as well as all those who will be helping you in her/his care. All these choices are personal in that you get to choose them (or should get to choose them) without outside influence, but they are not personal in that they affect only you. You are not a completely autonomous being. You affect others. You should be aware of that and not let an ‘it’s-my-life-I-can-do-what-I-want’ distract you from the wide-reach of consequences that your actions create.
            On a societal/macro-level, I have some possibly na├»ve desires of how society should work. I feel that society has progressed to thinking about the human condition as autonomous and individualistic. (Critical theorists might say this is coupled with the move from innovative to consumerist capitalism in western societies.) Regardless of where this comes from, I think it is a false human condition. To be fair, this move can also be tied to some pretty important equality movements for races, genders, sexualities, etc. However, I fear that these movements, having a foundation on something that I think is flawed, might push us to a devastating end.
Instead of fighting for individual freedoms and equality under the name of autonomy, I think we should be insisting upon it in terms of responsibility. Levinas argued that the human being should be understood as a being-for-the-other: one that is ontologically (or inherently) concerned with the well being of those around us. I agree with this on various levels, especially drawing from my religious background. Instead of trying to distance ourselves from others by saying “I should be able to do what I want because it does not concern you,” I feel that we should be promoting a feeling of giving people their rights because it is what we should be doing as concerned humans wanting to the best for our neighbors.

            I know that many people would argue that the conception of humanity understood by western society has created many benefits and we might as well push along while we are ahead. However, I think it is a worthwhile endeavor to push for a better framework with which to structure society.  Think of a society in which we didn’t have to push for rights, but where (once we understood they were lacking) they were given. Governments wouldn’t have to say what people could do (vote, marry, etc.), but just delineate personal protections.  We would be less concerned with fighting one another on conflicting moralities or arguing over meaningless semantics, but would be focused on actual well being of one another. Obviously this then would require arguments on who defines what the well being of another would look like (because let’s be honest, isn’t that what held people rights back so often before the progressive era?). However, in my heart, I believe (and perhaps naively) there is a way to make this happen.

Also, Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah, Happy Holidays, etc. to everyone!

(After thought: I wrote a pretty similar, albeit longer, post relating this to some words of Mormon prophets and apostles. To see this coupled with some LDS theology and a slight debate on the feminist "Ordain Women" movement, see Deeper than men v women: for self or for others.)

Friday, June 13, 2014

Stop y'alls bickering...please

So, a stake president and a bishop are holding two members of the LDS church to a disciplinary council. Thankfully, because of the large preponderance of friends I have who are either LDS or ex-LDS or deeply involved in social movement issues, this is figuratively ALL that I have seen on my Facebook feed. Every other post is about Kate Kelly or John Dehlin.

However, there isn't a lot of love going on there.

There is a lot of hate. Lots and lots of despair. A plethora of antagonism.

What happened to love? It seems we forgot a little about what Jesus stood for.

And this is towards both sides. Both those that "support" the brethren (the leaders of the LDS church) and those who "support" Kate Kelly (leader of the Ordain Women movement that advocates more equality in the church for men and women in part by giving women the priesthood) or John Dehlin (founder of the Mormon Stories podcasts where members and ex-members can simply tell their story).

I personally don't care what either of these people did as a relation to how we treat them. I do know that I'm not the biggest fan of the Ordain Women movement for various reasons (which is not the purpose of this blog). I also know that Dehlin's podcasts have been quite helpful in my own LDS journey. I've met many men and women who feel inspired by Kate Kelly. I am friends with people who have left the church over
John Dehlin and others who feel he is a tyrant.

Someone posted on one of my FB pages that he was upset for a group for sending encouraging notes to John Dehlin. He claimed it was like they were thanking him for apostatizing. What if they just wanted to thank him for sharing stories that helped with my testimony. What if some people felt power and spirit from Kate Kelly? Who are we to say they should be ostracized from the church and from our hearts?

Can we remember that God loves them dearly. As much as he loves you and me. Can we remember for a second that they are children of God?

I had multiple friends post their disappointment and disdain for the church's decision to take action against Dehlin and Kelly. Here is the letter to John Dehlin informing him of his impending disciplinary council: Dehlin letter. I didn't find that terribly cold or evil. In fact, I thought it was great. Kate Kelly's wasn't as loving, but it is still quite reasonable: Kelly letter. (This is assuming those letters are genuine.) Dehlin even posted on Mormon Stories that "The decisions [he's] made have certainly led to this week's events" (see post here). Kelly's response was less accepting of the issue, but still an understandable reaction (see post here).

It seems the church is responding as it normally would. Dehlin made some pretty intense claims about his church beliefs and his desire to disassociate from the church. Kelly has been leading a social movement challenging the church's authority despite having been given multiple answers (I am sorry, but I will not accept the claim that she was "just raising awareness" or "just asking a question", because the issue was received and if the answer was not obvious before this last conference, Elder Oaks made it quite clear what the church's answer is.)

For those who respond with animosity towards Kelly and Dehlin. Please stop. I've had my own concerns and fears about the Gospel. So far, the one thing that has kept me in the church is when my mother told me that she loved me despite my fears and doubts and that she wanted me to stay near to her and the family. The love for my family is stronger than any concerns. When people pressured me to stay or leave the church, all it did was confuse and trouble me. My mother's love was what calmed the tide and let me think clearly. Likewise, I think this is how Christ feels. He loves us and wants us to be close to Him. Can we act in a similar manner akin to how Christ loves?

For those who are reacting negatively towards the Church. First, their reaction should not come as a surprise. It is unfortunate that Kelly and Dehlin hold a prominent place in Mormon society making this a public issue. (However, I don't know if this necessarily needed to be publicized?) Second, I think it is important to remember that disciplinary councils are meant to provide a choice to the person in their standing in the Church. Membership is not a right, but a responsibility. The Church has very obvious guidelines (granted, various congregations and leaders may hold a different standard), but on the whole, Kelly and Dehlin's words/actions crossed boundaries. I don't believe the Church is a hodgepodge of grumpy old men trying to hold on to a tithing stipend. Instead, I honestly believe that they are trying to work for the salvation of man. Even if I'm not 100% sure that what they teach is true, I do believe that are doing it in good heart. So, let's stop hating them. Let's sop claiming they are greedy bigots who hate homosexuals and women. I don't think many people could sit and talk with President Monson and then go away thinking evil things about that man.

And if they are astray, God help us. But, God loves them just as much as He loves Dehlin, Kelly, and you and I.

So, let's remember love. Can we go back to that? Can we remember that Dehlin has helped thousands get through rough patches. Can we remember that Kelly helped a lot of women feel important and viable to the church? Can we love them for that?

Can we remember that the Church helps millions of impoverished people and communities worldwide every year? Can we remember that they teach people about Christ and His love? Can we remember that they support the family, which is a very dear part to many of our lives?

Yes, both sides have done things that I don't (and obviously many of my friends don't) agree with. But they also do fantastic, wonderful things. Let's love them for that. Let's love them even just because they are human. They are children of God. Can we please?

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Deeper than men vs. women: for self or for others

I fully recognize that I am setting myself up for an attack by all sorts of "progressive" and "liberal" ideologies by blogging about Elder Oaks. But I would hope that someone doesn't think that I am anti-women's rights because I liked his talk. I think if we looked into his talk deeper than the issue of women's rights in the church and the possibility of expanding the ordination of the priesthood we would find some fascinating stances taken by the church on what it means to be human.

So now that I've lost all the readers who don't want to hear some conservative BS and those who could care less about human ontology, I begin. Many of the conservative praise addressed towards Elder Oaks' talk on The Keys and Authority of the Priesthood revolved around his phrase: "Whoever exercises priesthood authority should forget about their rights and concentrate on their responsibilities." Rather than debate to the extent that this applies to men and women, I would like to create a dialogue on how we can understand our own human nature through the lens that, I feel, the LDS church generally adopts.

Last year I had the opportunity to do a contextual analysis (that is far from being scientific, but it was a class project) of a number of LDS General Conference talks and analyze how the leaders of the LDS church treated men vs. women. While studying, I was impressed by the leaders' avoidance of talking about natural ability or innate distinctions between men and women. (And yes, I do know that the Proclamation to the World on Family does mention that gender is an essential characteristic. However, it later emphasizes that gender is essential in relation to its responsibilities not its proclivities.)

My research focused mainly on men and women and how they were supposed to parent. The most common phrase that was used in both was "roles". In his talk Mothers and Daughters (2010), Elder Ballard declared that mothering and having children was a "[divine designation]" rather than a biological necessity. Elder Tanner in 1973 said that the mother had the role/obligation to "bring God's spirit children into the world" and use her talents to nurture and strengthen her children. I noticed that Elder Tanner did not say "nurturing talents", but that mothers could use a variety of talents for nurturing. The way these Elders talked about mothering wasn't as if women are inherently better or more equipped to take a nurturing role, but it seems to be more of a spiritual responsibility that they must fill.

The same language came in regards to Priesthood and Fathering roles that are given to men. According to President Benson, fathers have assignments and roles that are "eternal, and [their] importance transcends time". Elder Perry said, akin to how it was described by Elder Ballard towards women, that fathers preside by "divine design", not by an innate ability.

It seems that these leaders are less concerned with what we are biologically supposed to do or even what we have a right to do. Instead, God calls us to fulfill duties and responsibilities. (Yes, I will allow you to argue that these responsibilities have been wrongly designated to be divided by gender, but this is not the point I am trying to make.) This understanding of humanity, as a group of kin called upon by God to act in certain ways regardless of our natural tendencies is positing a moralistic ontology. We are moral beings oriented relationally in some way towards our God and one another. Our actions, regardless of notions of equality and rights, are instead directed to connecting with God or those surrounding us.

I argue that this theoretical stance is important in the discussion that people are having with science, human rights, and religion. Science bonded with the notions of human rights argue that since men and women have equal capabilities (to a large extent, because let's face it, my dad did not give birth to me), they should by default have right to the same responsibilities.

Religion, at least the LDS religion, is far less concerned with our orientation in regards to rights and privileges. For this group, it matters not where you are stationed in the Gospel. The ordinances and blessings that are given towards men and women are the same. Anyone who has been through the temple knows that there is differentiation between what a man receives and what a woman receives. A prophet will get the same reward as a deacon if they are faithful. Again, the focus is on being responsible rather than the right to a certain responsibility. It is concerned with our standing towards God rather than the amount of power and freedom we have from Him.

Elder Oaks stated, "There is no 'up or down' in the service of the Lord. There is only 'forward or backward' and that difference depends on how we accept and act upon our releases and our callings." As humans, what will bring us closer to the Lord is not the priesthood. It is the way in which we respond to the call of the
Lord. He then voiced his concern that this insistence on "rights" and "privileges" is far too pervasive in modern culture. We have become less concerned with how we are in relation to God and helping others and more focused on how we "measure up" and how we can keep up with the Jones' or with the men or with the heterosexuals or with the whites, etc.

I hope no one reads into this thinking that I am condoning discrimination and that those in powerless positions should just "deal with it". I am quite sympathetic to many causes of discrimination.

However, I do feel we aren't acting towards who we could be and who we are fundamentally when we insist for rights and forget our responsibilities. Levinas, a famous French philosopher, posited that we are naturally "called toward the other". Upon meeting and seeing another person, our very being is "called" or "sought out" to help the other in whatever way possible. Our human life is oriented towards serving those around us.

Let us accept this as the true nature of humans (which I like to think is close to the truth). Using this foundation, what does an insistence upon rights and respect and individuality do to the human spirit and our nature? What consequences could that have on our very being? If our focus turns from others to ourselves, what have we done to humanity? I think these may be some of the most important questions rather than what rights do I have compared to others.

If we did act according to our true nature and being responsible for others, would we even be in this predicament about affording women the "rights of the priesthood"? No. Because we A) wouldn't be focused on ourselves and B) if it were the case that women should have the priesthood, it would have already been given. (I know you could now argue that maybe the leaders of the church aren't acting with a focus on "the other", but I am not going to argue what the social orientation of the prophets are without talking to them. However, based on their talks, they seem to preach that we should be outward focused.)

This is far too long already. But I would urge people to consider that maybe the problems that are facing this country are less about who has all the rights (although I do agree this is an issue), but that we should be concerned more with if we are fulfilling our responsibilities designated by God. Are we the people who God wants us to be? Even those who are outside of believing in God can be better focused towards responding to the needs of those around us. For Levinas, transcendence in humanity resulted from taking on more responsibility towards those we come in contact with. It did not come from liberating oneself from social/political strains and advancing any cause of freedom. In fact, it was the opposite: answering the social pulls from all our friends, family, and contacts. Freedom came from being called upon to act for others not for oneself. (For an unfortunately dense, but interesting, look at Levinas check out Stanford's Encyclopedia of Philosophy.)

Ok, I really am done now. Please, let me know your thoughts, for or against. But remember, this is less a discussion of women's rights in the church and more an ethical argument towards human nature.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Hope and Action

You know those moments when things just hit you out of the blue? Those moments when life makes sense? Those moments when you get the excited feeling in your gut and you want to go out and change the world? (I'm reminded of Gru in Despicable Me: "Lightbulb!")

Just when all the things were getting difficult, I had two of those moments yesterday.

First, I was listening to the radio when Andy Grammer's "Keep Your Head Up" came on. I have no real like or dislike of the song and I usually don't listen to lyrics (I'm much more focused on the music), but for some reason I tuned into the words yesterday. I think it's the second verse that really clicked with what I was going through:

I've got my hands in my pockets,
Kicking these rocks.
It's kinda hard to watch this life go by.
I'm buying into skeptics, 
Skeptics mess with the confidence in my eyes.

I'm seeing all the angles, starts to get tangled
I start to compromise
My life and my purpose.
Is it all worth it?
Am I gonna turn out fine?
Oh, you'll turn out fine.
Fine, oh, you'll turn out fine.

Lately, I have been ruminating over all the difficulties and problems that come into life and, like the lyrics suggest, everything started getting jumbled. I got into a rut just ruminating over paradoxes and never being able to make a move. I was giving too much credence to other people's opinions and skeptics and not listening to myself. I stopped acting and moving because I was always afraid that any action would be turning me down a terrible path. How could I make a decision when I've doubted every action. I was looking for the perfect path to take in life, but I realized: it's not ever going to be perfect. Instead, life is about feeling out what paths are best for us: but that requires action...not deliberation. Talking about it helps and gives some direction, but if it goes too far nothing would ever happen. I don't think God would want to create a people too afraid to live life. 

And yes "you'll turn out fine". We all will, I think. But you have to DO something. Go start that business. Run the 10k instead of the 5k. Hike the tallest mountain. I just want to live rather than talk.

My second "moment" was while I was watching "Saving Mr. Banks". (Which I fully endorse and thought was an excellent movie). For those who don't know, Saving Mr. Banks is about Walt Disney trying to make the Mary Poppins movie with the author of the Mary Poppins books. Travers, the author, was growing frustrated that Disney wasn't making Poppins more realistic and accepting the difficulties and improbabilities in life. Walt answered with something that I thought was extremely important (I don't know if this is quoted exactly from Walt Disney, but either way, it's brilliant.)

That's what storytellers do. We restore order with imagination. We instill hope again and again."

Unfortunately I can't find the rest of the quote or background, but I guarantee you'll love that scene. He's trying to explain that his work is giving hope to people when the world is defeating. I've realized that while I've been thinking over things in my head, I've becoming so much of a realist I've been losing hope of ever being happy or of ever finding peace. However, isn't unrealistic hope is what drives us? 

My friend I was with made the point that our country was built on people who, regardless of where they lived, hoped for something greater and not "realistic" as their world was currently. They built something new and imaginary: freedom, the hope of choosing your own life and path. Sure, this may not be 100% the way America turned out, but that hope, in my opinion, gave us a great country. 

I don't want to be the realist that never dreams and works for anything great. I want to be a person that not only is inspired, but can inspire others. Hope is what drives us to create, invent, live--and do it well. Sure, maybe we shouldn't be living in a dream and we are destructively disappointed by reality. But, does that mean we should stop dreaming? Instead, I think we should all realize that dreams are really what drive innovation and greatness. I want that. I want to dream of a happy, fulfilling future -- and you know what, I think we can all achieve something like that.

So, hope and action. We've got to dream and then live our lives. Hope to grow and become great and working to reach that. 

Thursday, January 2, 2014

Silencing the Critics

I'm sitting around, sick with something awful, and I cannot seem to function except blogging and watching Psyche. 

While doing nothing but laying in bed and showering today, I was reflecting over my past year--appropriately for the New Years. A lot happened this past year, especially in the last semester: it was literally my last semester as an undergrad (Hallelujah), took the GRE, started grad school apps, etc. I know most people believe that their current semester is "literally the worst", but this was (objectively) a horrid experience. In any case, I survived the semester walking out quite unscathed. In fact, the only thing that would be make it better is if I got accepted (please oh please) into a PhD program.

As I was thinking about this, my first reaction was: "TAKE THAT WORLD! I'm a BOSS!" I started to think of who it was that told me that I couldn't do it, that I should tone down, or maybe consider other options. However, I came up short: I couldn't think of anyone (except for one professor, but we cleared things up as to what he meant).  Then it hit me, it wasn't other people that were constantly belittling me or telling me that I wasn't going to make it...

It was me.

I was the one always doubting myself or telling myself that it would never make it. I wasn't fighting "the world" this whole semester, I was fighting myself. Trying to prove to myself that I was worth it. Worth it for what? I'm not sure, yet. However, it's time that I focus on this. How much more peaceful would life be if I stopped being my own worst critic? I'm not saying we shouldn't self-evaluate, but it definitely should be less incriminating. More to come on this later, but it's something to think about.

Thursday, December 26, 2013

Beliefs and Tolerance

Happy Holidays, everyone! I've been musing over topics like this for a while, but I finally have a moment to put this down on 'paper'. Also, I should say up front that while talking about faith and beliefs, what I'm about to say must be understood as such (as a belief/opinion). I invite discussion with differing opinions and alternative viewpoints. Also, when I make references to religion, I will generally refer to Christianity (especially Mormonism, with which I am most familiar).

As many know, Utah is currently undergoing its state fight for same-sex marriage. Following the supreme-court case on DOMA and California's laws, it seems the media has exploded over the issue. So, as this is an issue that touches many people's personal maxims on freedom of self or religious beliefs on responsibility and morality many friends and acquaintances have been posting their thoughts and opinions on the matter. While I generally consider this is a positive thing, I'm disheartened by those who post claiming that their viewpoints are "factual" or "reality" and discredit the opinions and beliefs of other people. This isn't a one-sided problem with the religious fanatics or the homosexual rights activists taking most of the blame, but I feel from strong believers and moderates on both sides we all need to work on our tolerance of opposing views.

I call for more tolerance on the basis that the arguments that we all make are based on beliefs rather than capital T "Truth". Traditional Christianity places some of its foundations in faith. Faith necessarily indicates belief and not knowledge. Personal progression is based upon acting on trust that God exists despite not being completely sure. The current Pope says: "The great leaders of God's, like Moses, always left room for doubt. We must always leave room for the Lord and not for our own certainties. We must be humble. Every true discernment includes an element of uncertainty open to receiving spiritual consolation." Hebrews 11:1 -(KJV) "Now faith is the substance of things hoped for"; Alma 32:21 - (from the Book of Mormon) "faith is not to have a knowledge of things; therefore if ye have faith ye hope for things which are not seen, which are true." While Alma still posits that there is truth and that faith must be based in true things, we do not have knowledge of the truth. Ultimately, we are choosing to believe in God and that Christ died for us, etc. I think like Pope Francis has said, we need to be humble in our understandings for it is a belief not an assurance of fact or Truth. I'll concede that there may be people who do have absolute truth (many ancient prophets "saw God" and I feel that could be interpreted as having a knowledge of Truth. However, the general populace must still believe in their claims to "know".).

Because of this uncertainty, many have left religion in search for something more concrete and verifiable. It seems modernity has turned to science as the means to develop Truth and upon which we can base our lives. Generally, people have begun to base their lives upon science claims feeling justified because science delivers facts. However, I have two qualms about this. First, science itself has a history of reorganizing itself revealing the problems of previous paradigms. Who is to say that this time science finally has it right? The methodologies by which science makes knowledge claims were developed by science itself. There is no way to test whether our scientific framework is the correct one - tomorrow we may see new developments that change science. Additionally, social science (where many sexuality truth claims are being made) hardly has roots to claim broad knowledge claims. The complexity of human life makes it extremely difficult to conclude much universal Truth about the world.

Second, our observations in the world, even if they are reflective of the reality of the world, still are subject to human interpretation on A) what the observation means and B) how we should act as a result. For example, with homosexuality, science is currently in the debate on whether sexuality is biologically triggered or socially constructed. So what does it mean if we are biologically determined (or have biological predispositions) in our attractions? Our reactions still take place in a moral sphere - science cannot tell us how to act on its evidence. Take feminism for example. Some sociologists argue that gender is 100% socially constructed. If we took that as fact, there are still many ways to react. Some would argue that we should break down all gender barriers and push for an a-gendered society. Others would argue that gender aids in social cohesion and dissolving it would create problems. So, while Truth of the world may give us understanding, it does not give answers on how to act.

If neither science nor religion can stake a stronger claim on Truth, maybe we all need to be a little more humble towards our approach of other people's viewpoints. I think that each side might gain more from speaking openly about their beliefs and should listen openly about others' beliefs -- especially if contradictory. We must acknowledge that even if other people are wrong, they don't believe they are wrong. We aren't a society of idiots who argue for positions that they believe are wrong. Yet, are their beliefs any less valid than our own? Are not our knowledge claims just as much beliefs as theirs?

 What if conservative religions such as the LDS church are legitimated in their resistance towards allowing gay marriage? What if...

What if the gay population is legitimated in pushing for greater rights and a recognized place in society. What if...

The philosophy of humans being "believing beings" is far from new, but I fear that it has been lost due to our society's insatiable desire for Truth, progress, control, and certainty. Maybe if we are all more humble in our claims to Truth, we can be more open to other people's beliefs--could some social strife be calmed if we were more understanding that our own beliefs are just that: beliefs and that they hold just as must weight as other people's? Unfortunately, I'm not able to perfectly express my views as I'm just quickly jotting this down and I hope everyone recognizes that this is just a statement of my beliefs. But, I do believe that this recognition could be beneficial to society.

Note: I'm not claiming there is no Truth, but that we do not know the truth because we are beings of belief. Whether by a happen-stance of nature or God's design I believe that we are creatures of belief.

Fun quotes on beliefs and truth:
There's a world of difference between truth and facts. Facts can obscure the truth. -- Maya Angelou

I believe in everything until it's disproved. So I believe in fairies, the myths, dragons. It all exists, even if it's in your mind. Who's to say that dreams and nightmares aren't as real as the here and now? -- John Lennon

Above all, don't lie to yourself. The man who lies to himself and listens to his own lie comes to a point that he cannot distinguish the truth within him, or around him, and so loses all respect for himself and for others. And having no respect he ceases to love. -- Fyodor Dostoyevsky, The Brothers Karamazov

There are no facts, only interpretations. -- Friedrich Nietzsche

The forceps of our minds are clumsy forceps, and crush the truth a little in taking hold of it. -- H.G. Wells

And from one of my favorite books of all time:
"[The new feature in Pierre's relations...with all the people he met now] was his recognition of the impossibility of changing a man's convictions by words, and his acknowledgment of the possibility of every man thinking, feeling, and seeing things in his own way. This legitimate individuality of every man's views, which formerly troubled or irritated Pierre, now became the basis of the sympathy he felt for other people and the interest that he took in them. The difference, sometimes the complete contradiction, between men's opinions and their lives, and between one man and another, pleased him and drew from him a gentle, ironic smile." -- Leo Tolstoy, War and Peace

I hope that we can learn from other people and come to understand their views as legitimate and be able to sympathize with their frameworks. Maybe we can work towards harmony rather than arguing over beliefs disguised as Truth.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Living in the Moment

In a conversation with one of my best friends we breached the topic of "living in the moment", which is something both of us have struggled with. From her perspective I seem a lot happier, and I would say to some extent I'm doing better at "living in the moment", and so she asked me: How do I do it? How does one properly live in the moment?

So, I've been thinking about this for a while now: what is the golden key to living in the moment? The first answer I received about this: there is no golden key. There is never "the solution" to any problem. I mean, if we all had to solve our issues in the same way, wouldn't we just end up as the same people? I think our culture is a little obsessed with finding a "universal" truth on how to "be happy", but I think that is a little misguided. Even within my religion, I feel that there isn't just "one way". Sure, there are boundaries, but we don't have to do things the same way.

In any case, here are some thoughts that I have had on how I have "lived in the moment":

1st: As the phrase suggests, "living" requires something more active than just "thinking". I did a quick Google search for "living in the moment" and the top answers on the first couple of solutions all dealt with thinking. Phrases such as: don't think too much, don't worry too much. Ok, well, stop thinking of a pink elephant! You can't. I find the advice to "not think so much" generally only makes someone more anxious about how they are thinking of thinking too much and this just evolves into a destructive anxiety attack. I think that there may be some mental aides that we can draw upon, but in the end, I don't believe you can live by thinking.

So, what are these mental aides that can help a person (since we are so set on using our brains to solve every problem)?

- Reevaluate Priorities: I remember that my most stressful periods of life was when I was working to achieve something. Yet, once I "arrived" at the something, I would become unsettled and anxiously look for a new something to work for. My work habits pushed me to live in future accomplishment rather than enjoy the here and now. So, after much work, I've realized that most of what I was working towards was not worthy of defining my self-worth. I don't obsess (as much) over grades, assignments, being the "best". Instead, I'm trying to redefine my goals to be actions: spending time with people, learning from assignments, developing relationships, sleeping (haha, that is a real goal).

- Accept Paradoxes in life: Sometimes things don't make sense. Good things happen to bad people and to good people. Bad things happen to good people and to bad people. We just usually focus on what isn't "just" to our minds. Well, news flash, rain doesn't choose who to fall on. The sun doesn't choose who to shine upon. It just happens. Best friends get cancer, Mormons can be gay, Wendy's is out of Frosties (heaven forbid). Instead of growing angry at an inability to control, how about we accept what happens and try to make the best of it. This may sound crass, but what is the point of anger when we can't change things? I recently had a good friend and support pass away from cancer. I started to get really upset because he was one of my favorite people in the world. But, what would that help? Instead, I decided to remember him. I listened to his music, I told stories of fun times we shared, and I plucked up the courage to go to his funeral (which is a big step for me because I hate funerals). Rather than grow angry, I built up a positive memory of the experience.

2nd: So, if we are supposed to be active instead of reflective to live in the moment, what does that mean? This might be situational: if you are involved in something you absolutely hate, it will be uncomfortable and probably a bad idea to "live in the moment". So, you should probably change moments! Live what you want to live. Obviously we all have to pass through unpleasantries: passing by someone you barely know while deciding to look at him/her and smile or ignore them; dealing with the tedious bureaucracy of any organization; traffic; in-laws; etc. However, we can fill our lives with activities that we do enjoy: pick a career you love, find people whose company you enjoy, eat more food you like (even healthy food can sometimes taste good). Although we need to accept when bad things happen or when paradoxes do arise, we can make the best of them by choosing where we go, who we love, what we do.

The rest of these are just tricks that help me to avoid thinking too much about life:

- If I catch myself obsessing or worrying over something during a party, while I'm trying to sleep, or during a time when worrying or planning is not conducive, I write down (or put it in my phone) what I'm worrying about as a reminder to address it in a more appropriate time. That calms my fears about not addressing it while allowing me to enjoy the time when I should not be thinking about it. There is a time for worrying. Don't let it ruin your sleep schedule or your dates.

- When you are stressed, do something that you LOVE. Go running, do a puzzle, call up your best friend or mother or grandpa, eat a crepe (always a good solution). Find a way to relax yourself before tackling your worries. Being uptight about it will only lead to extreme conclusions and drastic action.

- Make jokes about the hard parts of your life. When my dad went in for surgery for appendicitis, our family was on Facebook chat sending surgery and appendix jokes to one another. Although I was slightly uncomfortable about some of the jokes (but really), it definitely made the mood lighter and cheery. Same thing happened when I got my tonsils out: my sister started sending me hilarious tonsillitis memes that made me less anxious about what was about to happen.

- Watch fun Youtube videos. My recent favorite channels are Ellen and SoulPancake. For me, they just show how to enjoy life. Check them out.

- Check out this song by Jason Mraz:

Anyways, those are just some of my ideas. The real solution for you could be found in a multitude of ways. If you have fun ways to "live in the moment", feel free to leave a comment and share.